New York primary showdowns feature moderate-progressive proxy battles for Congress, statehouse

NEW YORK — Several political proxy wars will move toward their conclusion Tuesday when voters cast primary ballots to decide who will represent them in Congress and the statehouse.

Those battles for public office have for the most part pitted progressive Democrats against moderates, with the race between incumbent Rep. Jamaal Bowman and Westchester County Executive George Latimer proving to be the most emblematic of that dynamic.

But not all local races are playing out along those lines.

In upper Manhattan, where two state Assembly seats are being hotly contested, political control that had traditionally rested in the hands of the Harlem political machine could continue to shift toward Washington Heights and Rep. Adriano Espaillat‘s base of power.

Other races that will soon be decided feature candidates with shady pasts who are either trying to hold onto power or make a comeback.

With polling places set to open Tuesday for primary election day, these are some of the most important races to keep an eye on:

—Bowman v. Latimer in progressive-moderate proxy battle

For months, Bowman, a progressive member of the lefty “Squad,” and Latimer, who’s positioned himself as a moderate corrective to the incumbent’s two congressional terms, have traded blows over the Israel-Hamas war, the verity of each other’s campaign claims and race.

Of the congressional progressives viewed as most vulnerable to a primary challenge nationwide, Bowman is broadly seen as sitting atop that list — a reality that recent polling supports. And his victory or defeat could serve as a bellwether for similar contests between moderates and progressives down the road.

Much of the backlash against Bowman can be traced back to his rhetoric around Israel’s war in Gaza in response to the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attacks, which he has described as a “genocide.” But Bowman has countered the attacks against him by attempting to paint Latimer as pawn of powerful pro-Israel lobbying interests like AIPAC, which have poured millions of dollars into the race, making it the most costly House primary in history.

Latimer has publicly and repeatedly portrayed Bowman as out of touch in the district and as a liar, citing his claims that he “co-wrote” one of President Joe Biden’s signature legislative achievements and a television ad suggesting Bowman won the endorsement of The New York Daily News when in fact it was Latimer who earned the paper’s support.

The contest has attracted big name surrogates and political endorsers as well.

Latimer has won the support of 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, while Bowman locked down endorsements from progressive standard-bearers such as Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

—AOC, Goldman facing challenges

Unlike Bowman, who polls show could very easily lose his primary fight, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez maintains a clear advantage over her more moderate Democratic challenger, Marty Dolan, a banker who’s called for the rollback of New York’s sanctuary city status.

Ocasio-Cortez has raised much more money than Dolan, and while the political winds have shifted to the center in recent months, she continues to enjoy broad popularity and near-celebrity status, making her re-election a virtual lock.

Rep. Dan Goldman, a moderate who oversaw the first impeachment inquiry into ex-President Donald Trump before serving his one term in Congress, is also facing a primary challenge, coming from the left and the center. One of his opponents, Evan Hutchison, has portrayed Goldman as “AIPAC-backed,” while the other, Bruno Grandsard, is vying for the middle lane and has criticized Goldman for focusing too much of his rhetoric on Trump.

While all those match-ups highlight a progressive-moderate divide in the city, on Long Island the Democratic primary for the Suffolk County seat held by Republican incumbent Rep. Nick LaLota is shaping up to be a far more centrist affair.

John Avlon, a former aide to Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani who voted in the eastern Long Island district for the first time in 2020, is running against Nancy Goroff, a longtime staple of the political scene there who has tried to tar Avlon for his time working with Giuliani. For his part, Avlon has questioned Goroff’s viability, noting that she lost to former GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin by 10% in 2020.

—Progs vs. Mods on the state level

Aside from lending her support to Bowman, AOC has also thrown her political heft down ballot to Assemblywoman Emily Gallagher, whose northern Brooklyn district is close to her own.

Gallagher, an avowed progressive who’s sought to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, is facing a primary challenge from Anathea Simpkins, an anti-gun violence advocate who’s viewed as more moderate and has clashed with Gallagher over a controversial street redesign in Greenpoint.

Incumbent progressives aren’t the only Democrats facing primary challenges.

In another race that will test the strength of the Democratic Party’s centrist faction, Brooklyn Assemblywoman Stefani Zinerman is facing a challenge for her 56th Assembly District from Eon Huntley, a left-wing activist backed by the Democratic Socialists of America.

Huntley, a 39-year-old native Brooklynite, is hoping to ride a left-wing wave that carried other young progressives into public office in past election cycles to represent Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Zinerman is currently the only centrist-leaning elected Democrat representing the sprawling Brooklyn neighborhood, giving that race outsize importance for both wings of the party. To that end, she’s racked up endorsements from power players in New York’s Democratic establishment, including U.S. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and state Attorney General Letitia James. A PAC bankrolled by real estate interests are also helping boost her reelection campaign.

Huntley has raised more money for his campaign than Zimerman, though, and is being backed by state Sen. Jabari Brisport, whose district overlaps with the 56th.

In the Bronx, another incumbent centrist Democrat who’s facing a challenge from the left is longtime Assemblyman Michael Benedetto.

Benedetto, who chairs the Assembly’s Education Committee and was first elected to represent the 82nd District in 2004, is for the second election cycle in a row facing off against Jonathan Soto, an ex-staffer to Ocasio-Cortez who’s been endorsed by her as well as the Democratic Socialists of America.

Turnout was low in the 2022 election, when Benedetto beat Soto by about 1,766 votes, about a 20% margin of the ballot total. But in a recent interview with Jacobin Magazine, Soto said he has a better shot this time around because “conditions are different.”

“The mayor, who is Benedetto’s main surrogate and ally, is deeply unpopular,” Soto told the outlet, referring to Mayor Eric Adams’ declining approval ratings.

—A different kind of battle for Harlem

In a primary that’s not so much about ideological differences as it is about alliances to local political power brokers, East Harlem Assemblyman Eddie Gibbs will square off against Xavier Santiago, chairman of the local community board.

Gibbs, the first ex-con elected to New York’s state legislature, is enjoying the support of some of the city’s most prominent Black leaders, including the mayor, state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Bronx Democratic Party boss Jamaal Bailey.

Santiago is backed by Espaillat, an influential figure in city politics who won ex-Rep. Charlie Rangel’s seat when he stepped down and is known for recruiting Hispanic candidates to run for office.

Before Gibbs took office in 2022, his 68th Assembly District, which is heavily Hispanic, was represented by a Latino lawmaker for more than a decade.

In the leadup to Tuesday’s election, Gibbs has landed in hot water for claiming in campaign literature that he was endorsed by a number of elected officials who aren’t actually backing him, including Rep. Jerry Nadler.

In another race to represent Harlem in the statehouse, four candidates are vying to take control of the seat being vacated by Assemblywoman Inez Dickens.

Jordan Wright, former campaign manager for New York City Council Member Yusef Salaam, is among those now running for the Assembly seat once occupied by his father, Keith Wright, the head of the Manhattan Democratic Party and a longtime Espaillat rival.

Dickens, who courted controversy when she said that Espaillat’s seat should revert to a Black leader, is backing Wright in the race.

To his left is Maria Ordonez, a Democratic state committee member and tenant organizer. Shana Harmongoff, a lawyer who worked for former Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin, and Craig Schley, a law clerk, are also running for the seat.

—Scandal-laced races in Queens

Clouds of scandal loom over a couple of competitive Assembly primaries in Queens due to the personal histories of the male candidates in each race.

Convicted felon Hiram Monserrate, an ex-state senator who spent nearly two years in prison in the early 2010s after being convicted of fraud and domestic abuse charges, is again running in the Democratic primary for the 35th Assembly District, which covers East Elmhurst as well as parts of Corona and LeFrak City.

Monserrate ran for that seat in 2022, too, but was handily defeated by incumbent Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry.

Aubry’s stepping down at the end of this year, though, providing an opening for Monserrate, who’s campaigning on a law-and-order agenda that echoes the priorities of his former state Senate colleague and onetime political ally, Mayor Adams.

Monserrate faces Larinda Hooks, a Queens district leader who has been endorsed by Aubry and the local Democratic establishment.

In the nearby 37th Assembly District, incumbent Democrat Juan Ardila is in a difficult race for reelection following accusations from two women who allege he attempted to take advantage of them sexually at a party in 2015. He has denied the accusations.

Some of the state’s top Democrats, including Gov. Kathy Hochul, have called on Ardila to resign. But he has held on to his seat and is heading into Tuesday’s election largely an outcast in his own party.

He’s going up against Johanna Carmona, a former sex crimes prosecutor in Brooklyn and Claire Valdez, a union organizer endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America.

Carmona and Valdez have pointed to the allegations against Ardila, a progressive, as reason for why he’s unfit to represent the constituents of the 37th.