New York Democratic primary challenger nabs nomination after overwhelming turnout
Originally published in The Uptowner as “Overwhelming Turnout Gives Jackson Democratic Nomination for State Senate”.
Reported with Katherine Long, Diana Chan and Caroline Kimeu. All photos by Jonas Ekblom
Former City Councilmember Robert Jackson will be the Democratic nominee for the District 31 state senate seat in November, winning a landslide victory over incumbent Marisol Alcantara tonight. In a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans nine to one, it’s likely Jackson will represent Inwood, Washington Heights, the Upper West Side and Hell’s Kitchen – plus parts of the Bronx – as state senator after the general election in November.
NY1 called the race at about 10:30 p.m. With over 45,000 ballots cast, compared to just 25,896 in the 2016 primary, voting turnout blew past all expectations. Jackson garnered close to 56 percent of the vote with over 27,000 ballots in his favor versus about 19,000 for Alcantara, elected two years ago.*
“I want to thank people who have given their time and energy, day after day after day, in 95-degree weather, in rain and snow, in order to say that we need a change in the New York state senate,” Jackson told dozens of ebullient supporters gathered at the Washington Heights pub Crazy Annie’s.
The Jackson campaign said the massive turnout proved the community takes accountability seriously. “Our current senator made a big mistake when she assumed no one would notice her being part of the IDC,” said Leslie E. Espaillat, a Jackson campaign consultant, referring to the Independent Democratic Conference, a group of eight senators who caucused with Republicans until they disbanded in April.
Jackson, 67, ran on a progressive platform, promising to enact tough environmental protections, strengthen rent control and increase city schools funding. He is best known for walking to Albany twice to protest underfunding in New York City schools.
But debate over the candidates’ platforms, which were similar, didn’t propel the race. Many Jackson supporters uptown said Alcantara’s participation in the IDC was the primary issue at stake.
“I was more influenced by the No IDC movement than by anything specific about Robert Jackson,” said Jackson voter Sarah Arzt, a hairdresser who cast her ballot this morning at Fort Washington Collegiate Church – the same polling place where Jackson voted.
“I voted for Robert Jackson,” said her friend, literary agent Susan Hobson, “because Marisol Alcantara became more of a rogue Democrat – a Republican – and was doing things we didn’t really like. We just want to get Alcantara out.”
Elsewhere in the city, voters rejected other former IDC members Jeff Klein, Tony Avella, Jose Peralta and Jesse Hamilton, voting in insurgents Alessandra Biaggi, John Liu, Jessica Ramos and Zellnor Myrie. But progressive candidates at the top of the ballot were less successful. Zephyr Teachout, who campaigned with Jackson this week, lost the nomination for attorney general to public advocate Letitia James, and Andrew Cuomo beat Cynthia Nixon to win his third Democratic nomination for governor.
Alcantara showed up to her campaign’s returns party, at Taboga in Inwood, only after the race had been called for Jackson. With wet eyes, she hugged equally teary supporters.
“I am very happy of my community, of all these Latina women who came out and supported me, of organized labor who were there and said they needed a seat at the table, and all these women who participated in politics,” she said. “I want to congratulate my opponent. I’m helping him with whatever transition we need.” Her supporters voiced regret that someone they see as a true local leader had been sidelined.
“Alcantara never lost. Our community lost,” said engineer Frank Bruno. “She worked for everyone, not just the Hispanic community. Everybody lost.”
The mood at her party, where close to one hundred mostly Latino voters gathered in a cavernous inudstrial space, quickly turned from disapponted to determined.
“We are ready for the fight and the fight is on,” said retired teacher Marilu Galvan. “The people who are here, we have all been energized.” Referring to Congressman Adriano Espaillat, who is Dominican but declined to endorse Alcantara, she said, “Those who say they are Dominican and not our leaders, they are not our leaders. Leaders are supposed to be a uniting factor, not a divisive one.”
As soon as polls closed at 9:00 p.m., the race tilted for Jackson. At Crazy Annie’s, the mood was raucous: Each time returns were updated, cheers of “Jackson can’t be beat!” echoed around the restaurant.
During his victory speech, Jackson said it was clear that voters were sick of “Democrats who turned their back on the voters.” He was met with boos and a chant of “No IDC!” Campaign staff led his wife, Faika Jackson, towards the makeshift stage at the end of the restaurant. A wide smile erupted on Jackson’s face, lit by the television camera spotlights.
”After Trump was elected, there was an awakening: People realized that New York is not the progressive state that we thought it was,” said Jackson volunteer Hope Kaye. She said Jackson swept the primary with a groundswell of support from progressive voters.
But before returns came in, it seemed anyone’s race. During the day, both campaigns exuded public confidence that their candidate would pull ahead. Canvassing this morning outside P.S. 192 in Hamilton Heights, senior Alcantara volunteer Yudelko Tapia predicted the senator would win by a margin of 800 votes.
“She’s killing it! I love it!” said Tapia, fielding hugs and encouragement from Alcantara voters. Later, the senator herself voted at the school, alongside City Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez and Assemblywoman Carmen De La Rosa.
Alcantara, 45 and a former union organizer, was born in the Dominican Republic and her support was concentrated in the Dominican community. Among individual donors, she outraised Jackson only in Washington and Hamilton Heights.
“I voted for Alcantara because she’s part of this community,” said Dominican retiree Marilia Lozano at a Nagle Avenue polling station. “That’s important. Unity. We Latinos stick together.”
But elsewhere, cracks emerged in Alcantara’s Spanish-speaking base. Retired social worker Isabel Furmin, who also immigrated from the Dominican Republic, made it her mission to convince Spanish-speaking voters to reject the IDC.
“No vota por Alcantara. Ella es una traidora,” she urged voters outside P.S. 192. “Vota por Jackson.” She said Jackson’s years of volunteering in Santo Domingo and Alcantara’s track record of voting with Republicans had turned her towards the Jackson camp.
And in private, the Alcantara campaign seemed more worried than its public statements suggested. Shortly after polls opened this morning, Ray Severino, a veteran Democratic operative canvassing for Alcantara outside the 3333 Broadway public housing complex, sounded resigned to the prospect of a Jackson win.
“It happens that this time Micah Lasher’s people are supporting Robert Jackson, and that could be a big problem for Alcantara,” he said, referring to the third candidate in 2016’s three-way senate primary in which Alcantara defeated Lasher and Jackson. “Either way, it’s going to be real tight.”
As it turned out, it wasn’t close at all.