Richards, Crowley battle for top spot in closely contested Queens borough president race

unisphere – shutterstock
Photo via Shutterstock

Voters in Queens used ranked-choice voting to pick between three Democratic candidates running for borough president in the primary election on Tuesday, June 22, with two candidates vying for the top spot in the hotly contested race.

Incumbent Donovan Richards held a small lead over Elizabeth Crowley, the former District 30 councilwoman, as of 8 a.m. Wednesday morning, with term-limited District 26 City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer in third place, with more than 88 percent of precincts reported, according to unofficial results from the city’s Board of Elections (BOE).

Richards secured 41.53 percent of the vote (64,814 votes), with Crowley right behind him at 40.20 percent of the vote (62,738 votes), according to the BOE. Van Bramer followed with 17.82 percent of the vote (27,813 votes).

Because of the new ranked-choice voting system, if none of the three candidates have more than 50 percent of the votes after all votes are counted, the last-place candidate will be out of the running. If initial results are any indication, Van Bramer will be in last place, which means that all ballots with Van Bramer as the first choice would be redistributed to those voters’ second-choice candidates. After that, whoever has the most votes will win.

Only preliminary unofficial results, including ballots cast during the early voting period and on Election Day, are currently available from the BOE. Absentee ballots are not a part of the initial tally.

“I think when all is said and done, I think our work speaks for itself. I think when ranked-choice [voting] plays out, we’re gonna come out favorable in this race as well,” Richards said at his election night party at Cobblestones Pub in Forest Hills. “Every vote must be counted and we respect the Democratic process. We’re ready to continue the work that we started.”

Meanwhile, Crowley’s campaign manager Graham Nolen said the campaign is “encouraged by the results we’ve seen so far.”

“There are tens of thousands of absentee ballots to be counted, and we look forward to seeing the complete results and the RCV process,” Nolen said. “We believe we’re on a path to victory.”

The close race is no surprise, as Richards and Crowley competed in the closely contested special election in 2020 to fill the seat vacated by Melinda Katz, who was elected to become Queens district attorney in 2019. The race came down to the wire, with Crowley finishing in second place, trailing Richards by only 7 percent of the vote.

Following the Democratic primary, Richards became the first Black man to win the Queens borough presidency in the November 2020 general election, beating out Republican challenger Joann Ariola and third-party candidate Dao Yin. Election results showed that Richards earned 518,840 votes (69.8 percent of the vote) compared to Ariola’s 205,893 votes. Winning the primary today is the first step to keeping that role for a full term.

Prior to serving as borough president, Richards was the councilman for District 31, which represents constituents in Arverne, Brookville, Edgemere, Laurelton, Springfield Gardens and Far Rockaway, from 2013 to 2020.

Richards’ re-election campaign prioritized COVID-19 recovery; building more affordable housing; improving transportation by redesigning streets, improving the borough’s bike network and increasing bus service; and combating the rampant hate crimes across the borough.

Donovan Richards is the incumbent Queens borough president. (Photo courtesy of campaign)

In a statement to QNS earlier Tuesday, Richards touted his accomplishments in his first six months as borough president.

“In just over six months as borough president, we’ve worked hard to deliver on the platform we proposed last year. We quickly expanded access to the COVID-19 vaccine, broke ground on thousands of new units of real affordable housing, modernized and diversified our community boards, secured $17.5 million for small business assistance, invested nearly $12 million into our local healthcare system, and opened the first of its kind Immigrant Welcome Center at Borough Hall,” Richards said. “Now it’s time to continue to build on the progress we’ve made, and work to ensure our streets are safe, our borough is more affordable, and our small businesses are able to flourish.”

He received key endorsements from 20 fellow Queens elected officials, as well as 26 local unions and organizations that supported his re-election campaign.

Crowley is the most moderate of the three democratic candidates. According to her campaign, she is in support of hiring more police officers and criticizes the term “defund the police.” Crowley said she wants to diversify the police force as well.

“We have to go back to the fundamentals: Good schools, affordable living and safe streets,” Crowley said. “I have a proven record on all of these issues: my City Council district is no longer the most overcrowded. I’m the only candidate in the race to not take developer money, and I have taken on City Hall consistently to fight for our fair share of public safety resources.”

Elizabeth Crowley (Photo courtesy of campaign)

The lifelong Queens resident was the first woman and Democrat elected to the City Council in District 30 and served on the Council for nine years. She told QNS that the top three issues facing the borough are a post-COVID economic comeback, improvements to public education and expanding transit and affordable housing for Queens residents.

Van Bramer, who was in the middle of a campaign for borough president last year before dropping out, is considered the most progressive candidate and has received endorsements from Cynthia Nixon and state Senator Jessica Ramos. He’s a founding member of the progressive caucus of the City Council.

Jimmy Van Bramer (Photo courtesy of campaign)

Van Bramer on Wednesday morning all but conceded the race, acknowledging that his deficit is likely too much to bounce back from.

“While there are still potentially nearly 50,000 absentee ballots yet to be counted, it is clear from the results on Primary Day that we did not get the result we had hoped for,” Van Bramer said in an emailed statement. “I congratulate Borough President Donovan Richards and Elizabeth Crowley for moving on to the next round of ranked-choice voting. Although we fell short, there is so much about this campaign to be proud of.”

The BOE plans to count the rest of the votes on June 29, but those will also only include early voting and election day ballots.

They also plan to release updates on the absentee ballots one week after that on July 6. Complete results should be available by July 12, but there is no set date. An official result will be made when every vote is counted.

The general election will take place on Nov. 2, 2021.

This story was updated at 11:20 a.m. on Wednesday, June 23.