Election Day is today: Here’s the City Council races to watch when you head to the polls

New York City Hall.
Caroline Rubinstein-Willis/Mayoral Photography Office

What has so far been a sleepy 2023 election season will be capped off by the Nov. 7 general election on Tuesday.

On the ballot are races for City Council, judgeships and two proposed amendments to the state constitution. New Yorkers will have to choose one candidate on Election Day instead of ranking them, as the general election does not employ ranked-choice voting (RCV).

The races for all 51 City Council seats are occurring this year, just two years after they were last on the ballot, because the council maps were redrawn last year. Normally races for council occur every four years.

While every council seat is on the ballot, most races across the city are not competitive, with 14 incumbents running unopposed. However, there are a few seats that political observers are eyeing going into next week. 

Among those contests, council Republicans are looking to pick up a couple of seats. Although those gains would not make much of a difference in the heavily Democratic chamber, Council Minority Leader Joe Borelli (Staten Island) hopes the gains could boost his caucus’ influence in the body.

Here are a few of the competitive races to watch going into Election Day.

Council District 13, Bronx: Velazquez vs. Marmorato

Democratic incumbent Majorie Velazquez, a moderate Democrat who was first elected to the council in 2021, is defending her eastern Bronx seat from Republican Kristy Marmorato, a political newcomer.

The east Bronx district covers neighborhoods including Throggs Neck, Morris Park and City Island.

While a Republican has not been elected in the Bronx for nearly 20 years, Marmorato has a decent shot. The district is made up of 61.7% registered Democrats, 14.4% registered Republicans and 19.8% unaffiliated voters, according to data from the CUNY’s Center for Urban Research. But 2021 Republican mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa won it by one percentage point over Mayor Eric Adams.

Marmorato, and others, have heavily criticized Velazquez over her aboutface on the Bruckner Boulevard rezoning, which was approved a little over a year ago, where she went from opposing the plan to supporting it shortly before a crucial vote, according to reporting from the Bronx Times.

Yet Velazquez’s reversal on the rezoning did not impact her performance in the June Democratic primary, in which she defeated several challengers with a comfortable 67% of the vote in the first round of ranked-choice counting.

City Council Member Marjorie Velázquez.Photo by Aliya Schneider

Marmorato has faced her own barrage of criticism. During the GOP primary, her opponents painted her as benefitting from nepotism due to her brother, Michael Rendino, being chair of the Bronx GOP. 

Velazquez has also taken aim at Marmorato for potentially benefiting politically from her husband, Gino Marmorato, being the Republican commissioner for the city Board of Elections (BOE). Marmorato, however, told City & State NY that her husband recused himself from any BOE business connected to her council bid.

The race has become particularly heated in its closing days, with Velazquez and Marmorato going after each other in the closing minutes of a TV debate that aired on BronxNet Tuesday night. The two reportedly continuing to argue at a high volume after the debate ended.

Velazquez has outraised opponent, bringing in $142,126 in private donations, compared to Marmorato’s $64,660, according to city Campaign Finance Board (CFB) records. But with public matching funds they ended up bringing in similar amounts overall.

District 19, Queens: Paladino vs. Avella, Part II

Incumbent Council Member Vickie Paladino, a far-right Republican first elected two years ago, is in a rematch with her 2021 Democratic opponent Tony Avella, a former council member and state Senator. Avella’s hoping to unseat Paladino after losing to her in 2021 by just 400 votes in an upset.

The eastern Queens district covers neighborhoods like College Point, Whitestone, Bayside and Little Neck. It is a very politically purple district, made up of 50% registered Democrats, 20.2% Republicans and 25.9% voters with no party affiliation.

Lee Zeldin, the 2022 Republican gubernatorial nominee won the district by 57%, compared to the 42.8% who voted for Gov. Kathy Hochul in last year’s governor’s race. Voters in District 19 also preferred Sliwa to Adams in the 2021 mayor’s race, with Sliwa garnering 59.4% of the vote to Adams’ 37.4%.

Council Member Vickie Paladino.Photo Credit: Gerardo Romo / NYC Council Media Unit.

Since taking office in 2021, Paladino has been a controversial figure in the City Council. The staunchly pro-Trump Republican has on several occasions drawn the ire of her progressive council colleagues for making anti-LGBTQ remarks, which got her booted from the chamber’s Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities, and Addiction earlier this year. She’s also come under fire for railing against vaccine mandates and the city’s efforts to provide for tens of thousands of recently arrived migrants.

Yet veteran political strategist Hank Sheinkopf told amNewYork Metro that Paladino’s controversial comments likely won’t hurt her chances in a district that has shifted rightward and that she has a good shot at fending off Avella.

“It’s hard to see how a Democrat wins that seat right now,” Sheinkopf said. “She’s been staunchly anti-migrant. She’s certainly on the right. And she’s a maverick, which is kind of what people are looking for, especially when it comes to the City Council because there’s a general sense in portions of Brooklyn and Queens that the council’s nuts.”

Paladino has far outraised Avella, bringing in $214,503 in private funds over the course of the election compared to his $66,583. Avella, however, ended up raising a decent amount overall with public matching funds.

Former City Council member and state Senator Tony Avella.QNS file photo

District 43, Brooklyn: History to be made

Council District 43 in southern Brooklyn is an open seat that was redrawn as an “Asian-opportunity” district — with a 53% Asian majority. It includes the neighborhoods of Sunset Park, Bensonhurst, Gravesend and Bath Beach.

Three candidates are vying for the seat: Democrat Susan Zhuang — who serves as chief of staff to Democratic Assembly Member William Colton, Republican neighborhood activist Ying Tan and Conservative Party pick Vito Labella.

The district is comprised of 51.8% registered Democrats, 13.7% Republicans and 31.9% voters with no party affiliation. It went for Sliwa in 2021 by a healthy margin, with the Republican receiving 60.1% of the vote, compared to the mayor’s 35.2%.

Susan Zhuang, Democratic nominee for the 43rd City Council district.Photo courtesy of Friends of Susan Zhuang

Politicos have predicted that Zhuang, who is moderate, will come out on top because the Republican vote will likely be split between Tan and Avella, in the absence of ranked-choice voting (RCV).

Democratic strategist Trip Yang told amNewYork that LaBella could siphon off at least a couple of percentage points from Tan, which could hand the race to Zhuang.

With a commitment to join the council’s Common Sense Caucus, which is made up of all the body’s Republicans and two conservative Democrats, Zhuang winning could benefit the Republicans either way. However, Yang said Zhuang’s more politically moderate stances on issues like public safety and the migrant crisis are simply part of running as a Democratic in a swing district.

“I think Susan is rational about taking the positions that she needs to take on migrants, on safety, on these issues in order to win the district that voted for Lee Zeldin by 20 points,” Yang said.

Zhuang has led Tan in private fundraising, raking in $74,596 to Tan’s $45,462, and also ended up with more money in matching funds. LaBella has brought in significantly less than both Zhuang and Tan, raising just $19,170 in private funds.

District 47, Brooklyn: Incumbent vs. incumbent

The most hotly contested council race this year is in the 47th District between two incumbents: Democrat Justin Brannan and Democrat turned Republican Ari Kagan.

The two are going head-to-head after portions of their current council districts were combined in redistricting to form a new district that includes both Brannan’s home turf of Bay Ridge and Kagan’s stronghold in Coney Island. Soon after the district maps were released late last year, and it became clear Kagan was unlikely to overcome Brannan in a Democratic primary, Kagan switched his party affiliation to Republican and launched a bid against Brannan.

The district is 55% registered Democrats, 17.3% registered Republicans and 24% unafilliated voters. Sliwa just slightly won the district in 2021 by 0.5%.

In the run-up to Election Day, the contest has gotten increasingly ugly, with the two taking seemingly every opportunity to sling mud at one another.

Brannan has repeatedly hit Kagan over becoming a Republican — characterizing it as a betrayal to those who elected him as a Democrat, spouting right-wing talking points and standing with figures like Sliwa in opposing migrant shelters, and recently suggesting a ban on elective abortions. He also accused Kagan of sending out a campaign fundraising email soliciting donations over the legal limit, although Kagan said it was a technical error and no one donated above the required threshold.

Brooklyn City Council Members Justin Brannan and Ari Kagan
Brooklyn City Council Members Justin Brannan (left) and Ari Kagan (right).Emil Cohen/ NYC Council Media Unit

Kagan has gone after Brannan over voting for a city budget in 2020 that cut $1 billion from the NYPD, helping shape the Fiscal Year 2024 budget that includes a significant amount of funding for the migrant crisis and his stance on Israel and Hamas war.

While Brannan received the mayor’s endorsement last week, Brooklyn Democratic Party boss Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn — who is also an Assembly member — does not appear to be in his corner. The party chair attacked Brannan in a lengthy Tuesday statement over years-old allegations that he harassed a fellow council staffer with autism when the two worked for his predecessor Vincent Gentile, according to reporting from the Brooklyn Paper.

Brannan has fiercely denied the allegations and was not named in a 2016 lawsuit the staffer — Michael Bistreich — brought against the city and Gentile. A group of Democratic district leaders also came to Brannan’s defense in a Wednesday statement.

Brannan has raised $179,018 to Kagan’s $76,209 in private donations, but Kagan has brought in more money overall with public matching funds.

Early voting is underway and runs through this Sunday, Nov. 5. On Election Day, Nov. 7, polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more voting information or to find your local early and regular polling sites, visit vote.nyc.

Additional reporting by Camille Botello, Aliya Schneider and Jada Camille.

Correction: This article was updated on Nov. 9 at 9:30 a.m. to reflect the accurate number of registered Republican voters in Council District 13 — 14%. The article stated that the number was 44%.