Brooks-Powers wins District 31 special election in city’s first ranked-choice voting count

Selvena Head Shot (2)
Selvena Brooks-Powers wins the special election for City Council in southeast Queens. (Photo courtesy of Brooks-Powers’ campaign)

Selvena Brooks-Powers is the winner of the special election for the 31st District City Council seat vacated by Queens Borough President Donovan Richards last year. The special election marks the first time a ranked-choice voting count was used to determine the winner of an election in New York City.

After leading the nine-candidate field with 38 percent of the vote on Election Day on Feb. 23, Brooks-Powers added to her lead during the absentee process and crossed the 50 percent threshold Thursday during the reallocation of votes under the ranked-choice voting system.

“I am honored to be elected by the residents of the 31st City Council District in southeast Queens,” Brooks-Powers said. “I stand on the shoulders of the leaders that have come before me, but especially that of Juanita Watkins, the first woman of color to serve a NYC Council district and the only woman to have ever served the 31st District, almost 20 years ago.”

The district encompasses the neighborhoods of Arverne, Brookville, Edgemere, Far Rockaway, Laurelton, Rosedale and Springfield Gardens. This is the first time the ranked-choice voting system has been used to determine the winner of a council race since the program was approved by voters in 2019.

“Running for office takes commitment and drive, and I wish the best for the other candidates,” Brooks-Powers said. “I remain thankful to everyone who supported me during the campaign – my family, friends, mentors, faith-based leaders, community leaders, and brothers and sisters in labor.”

Brooks-Powers captured 51.6 percent with 3,841 votes. Pesach Osina finished second with 2,674 votes, according to the city’s Board of Election. The candidates were the last two standing, after the remaining seven were eliminated during the counting process, which began on Tuesday.

Osina, who finished second, behind Richards, in the 2014 special election for the same seat, congratulated Brooks-Powers after the count was completed.

“We ran a great campaign, but the voters of Queens’ 31st Council District have exercised their right, and have used the power of their votes, their ranked-choice votes … and they have spoken,” Osina said. “I congratulate Selvena Brooks-Powers on her victory as the next person to represent our community in the New York City Council. I wish her the best as we need to come together as a community given the many challenges ahead.”

Osina did not commit to running again in the June Democratic primary for the seat, but he didn’t rule it out either.

“I will meet with my advisors as we map out the next steps defining what the future holds as we continue our mission to build bridges throughout all communities,” he said.

Brooks-Powers looked at the challenging road ahead Thursday, vowing to fight for resources during the ongoing crisis that has hit both the district, and the city hard.

“We are in the midst of a tremendously challenging time, and the 31st District has been hardest hit,” Brooks-Powers said. “I understand the gravity of the next few months and am ready to hit the ground running to begin immediately delivering for the district. In the last 20 years, we faced 9/11, Flight 587, Superstorm Sandy, the 2008 economic crisis and now the COVID-19 pandemic. Our community is resilient and we will recover from this pandemic and come back stronger. I will work tirelessly to ensure we get our fair share of support, resources and respect from City Hall.”

Richards, the former office holder, took to Twitter to congratulate his replacement.

“All of the ballots are counted and the people have spoken: congrats Council Member-elect Selvena Brooks-Powers! With this being the first true test of #RCV, it was great to see democracy in action and see [Brooks-Powers] prevail,” the borough president wrote. “I am confident CM-elect Brooks-Powers will build on the work my office and I started and chart a new course for the future of the 31st District. She will make SEQ proud.”

Powers-Brooks will finish Richards’ term on the City Council and will have to run again in the June primary and November general election to serve a full term.

Powers-Brooks is a lifelong resident of southeast Queens who recently served as the M/WBE compliance project manager with the JFK Redevelopment Program.

This story was updated to include a statement from Pesach Osina at 1:30 p.m., on Thursday, March 18, 2021.