When the mayor of New York City steps down at the end of the year, more than half of city council members will follow him out, leaving a city still in the process of finding its place after the pandemic in untested hands a newly elected mayor and a legislature filled with newcomers.
It was unclear who the newcomers would be when polls close on Tuesday: the outcome of many races in Tuesday’s primary was still unknown, although a handful of incumbents seeking re-election won an easy victory , others being ready to follow suit.
In most races – which are full of candidates vying for open seats – no winner was to be declared. The postal ballots have not yet been counted (over 200,000 have been requested) and the priority selections have yet to be compiled. Official Council of Elections results are not likely until mid-July.
But the Council is guaranteed to have an imminent overhaul after the general elections in November, with the 51 seats on the ballot, and a new incumbent guaranteed in 32 of them.
Left-wing activists and leaders focused much of their energy in New York City on the Council races they saw as up for grabs. Despite a strong left-wing base in New York City, residents tend to be more centrist in their choice of mayor. Indeed, during this year’s mayoral primary, the more moderate candidates seemed to be leading the polls.
At the same time, the Council has drifted to the left of Mayor Bill de Blasio over time. Progressives hoped they could elect candidates who could counterbalance the mayor and promote a progressive platform.
The Democratic Socialists of America, for example, have mostly dropped the mayoral race and focused most of their resources on six city council candidates.
One of the group’s picks, Tiffany Cabán, who suffered a narrow loss in the 2019 primary for the Queens District Attorney, held a significant lead on Tuesday night in the race for Queens District 22, although she reach the 50% threshold required to avoid a prioritized vote count was unclear.
The Working Families Party supported more than two dozen candidates. Two of her picks – Carlina Rivera, East Village council member, and Jennifer Gutiérrez, council member chief of staff in her district of Brooklyn and Queens – were screened by The Associated Press to win their races.
Much of the Council’s turnover stems from term limits that prevent members from standing for re-election, although a handful of them were in Tuesday’s poll looking for a different position.
Many incumbents seeking re-election have faced major challengers. A handful of them are relatively new to the job, having only won a special election earlier this year and facing challengers they just beat.
One of those candidates, Selvena Brooks-Powers, was the city’s first female candidate to win a race after a vote count in a special election in February. On Tuesday night, she was due to win her primary in District 31 of Queens with a decisive lead of thousands of votes.
A number of former city council members were looking to regain the seats they had left vacant. One of the best-known, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, looked set to take over the Upper West Side District 6 seat she held from 2002 to 2013. At 11:30 p.m., she had more than half the votes counted in the race.
The most senior council post will also be open: current speaker Corey Johnson was running for city comptroller and is stepping down. Council members choose their leader, who plays a key role in setting the council agenda and negotiating with the mayor over the city’s budget. The election of a speaker will be one of the first ways in which the winners of the Council seats will exert their influence.
Mr Johnson, who took office in 2014 at the same time as Mr de Blasio, said on Tuesday the momentum made Council races worth watching closely.
“The Council is going to have to exercise real oversight over the new commissioners who will be chosen by the mayor,” said Mr Johnson. “So this is an extremely consequential election.”
In addition to introducing and passing laws, the city council provides several controls over the power of a mayor. Council members are influential in the city’s land use planning process, which affects development projects in their neighborhoods.
The council can also call public hearings on contentious issues involving city agencies, and it votes on the city budget, which includes funding for the police department, a major focus of progressive activists.
The stakes for the Democratic primaries are particularly high in the city. Only three Republicans sit on the council, and winners from nearly every district will be heavily favored to win the November general election.