Leftward tilt in New York politics puts incumbents on edge in 2020

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The coming year will be a true test for the Queens County Democratic Party under the leadership of Congressman Gregory Meeks, who faces a primary challenge himself in 2020. (Photo by Mark Hallum)

A local Twitter tiff between Queens politicians in the waning days of 2019 might be a preview of the rancor expected among New York Democrats in 2020.

Two hopefuls for Queens borough president in the 2020 special election had it out on Twitter the night of Dec. 28 doubting the true nature of one another’s progressive leanings.

Melinda Katz, the current borough president, will resign from the office to take up the role of Queens DA on New Year’s Day; she won the seat after a razor-thin June primary over progressive Tiffany Cabán by 55 votes in the August recount.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz claimed victory in her run for Queens County District Attorney tonight at the Queens County Committee office in Forest Hills in November. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Councilman Donovan Richards gave Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer an earful claiming he had not fallen in line with objectives until they had proven popular.

“Funny how folks who were part of the Queens County Organization, all of a sudden are progressive… and want to rewrite the rules for the nomination process they engaged in without an issue forever,” Richards tweeted before adding, “Let’s discuss the other guy who supported Joe Crowley over [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] and all of a sudden is anti-establishment. This individual also sent two letters of support for Amazon to come to LIC, before he knew what was in the deal and talked to his community.”

Van Bramer took that “other guy” reference as to mean himself, and he fired back at Richards with a link to Medium post he had written about his time as advocate for LGBTQ rights in New York City from a young age.

With Van Bramer, Richards and Councilman Costa Constantinides are all in the running for the borough president’s seat, all three are term-limited in 2021. Former Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley also aims for a comeback in the BP race after losing her seat to Robert Holden in 2017.

Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman dropped out of the race Monday morning as the county Democrats put their backing behind Richards.

But the borough president’s race holds higher significance for the Queens County Democratic Party, which seemed to be shattered after the defeat of former chair and Congressman Joe Crowley. Under the leadership of the new chair, Congressman Gregory Meeks, the county’s influence seems to still be alive, as the DA race showed in 2019.

But Meeks faces his own opponent in 2020, Shaniyat Chowdhury, a former staffer to Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who stunned Crowley in the 2018 primary.

Challenging incumbents

The same mechanisms of left-ward expansion felt in the movement to oust members of the Independent Democratic Conference in the State Senate seem to still be at work to influence politics in Albany and Washington.

At the federal level, there is no shortage of first-time candidates rising up to unseat who they view as entrenched incumbents.

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney has four primary challengers. Suraj Patel, who made an attempt at Maloney’s job in 2018, is back at it – but the field is a little more crowded this time around.

JP Morgan project manager and comedian Lauren Ashcraft, lawyer and advocate for sexual harassment survivors Erica Vladimer and housing activist Peter Harrison are all competing against Maloney. 

Melquiades Gagarin, an activist, is challenging Congresswoman Grace Meng in the 2020 primary.

Melanie D’Arrigo is a progressive standing up to Congressman Tom Suozzi, whose district covers Nassau County and small parts of Queens. The district has been a battleground between Democrats and Republics in the past, but not between a Democrat and a progressive.

Congressman Jerry Nadler, whose gained national attention as chair of the House Judiciary Committee that successfully passed two articles of impeachment against Trump, has a dedicated challenge from Lindsey Boylan.

Not even AOC is immune to challenges. The freshman lawmaker, who cranked up progressive momentum against mainstream leaders in June 2018, will have to fight to maintain her place on Capitol Hill in the coming months for the first time.

Ocasio-Cortez has 11 challengers, both Democratic and Republican — and at least two of them have raised over $400,000 in funds, according to The New York Times.

Nevertheless, Ocasio-Cortez has become a national star in Democratic politics, and despite the high number of challengers, it’s difficult to see how any of them can beat her. That’s especially true for her eventual Republican opponent in the general election, who will be heavily outnumbered in the heavily-Democratic Congressional district.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke at a Bernie Sanders rally in Queens in October. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

This story has been updated since Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman stepped out of the running for Queens Borough President on Dec. 30.