Candidates race to run for reconfigured seats following new district maps

An early voting site at 70 Tompkins Ave. in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Oct. 29, 2021. (Hiram Alejandro Durán/ THE CITY)

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Candidates are streaming in and out of congressional and state races now that New York has adopted new political district maps.

Democratic state lawmakers last month aggressively redrew state and congressional boundaries to favor their party, including reconfiguring three congressional districts won by Donald Trump in 2020. Gov. Kathy Hochul approved the new lines on Feb. 3.

Now, candidates spanning the political spectrum are filing to run for those seats while others are suddenly dropping out, complicating the political math for many campaigns.

Several politicians are waiting to see if longtime Democratic State Sen. Diane Savino, who doesn’t like her new district lines that connect Staten Island to Red Hook, may even bow out after more than 15 years in the Senate.

“I think in an effort to create this new Asian opportunity district it disrupted everyone else,” said Savino, who is supportive of the creation of a new Asian-plurality district that overlaps with her old one. “In an effort to correct one problem, you created another.”

Savino, who took her seat in 2005, declined to say if she won’t run again.

“When I have something to tell the world I’ll tell them,” Savino told THE CITY, chuckling. “I’ll be an incredibly hard act to follow if that is in fact what happens and I’m anxiously awaiting to see who will emerge.”

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY
Sen. Diane Savino speaks in support of then-mayoral candidate Eric Adams during a campaign rally, Oct. 7, 2021.

But potential challengers are already swarming. Jasi Robinson a North Shore activist in Staten Island and district leader said: “If the rumors are true, then I’ll have to explore my options.”

Bianca Rajpersaud, president of the North Shore Democrats and a Staten Island district leader, is also strongly interested in running.

Drawn In

State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D-The Bronx) announced earlier this week that she’s running for New York’s newly drawn 3rd Congressional District, currently represented by Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-L.I.). That formerly Long Island and Queens district now also includes parts of Westchester and The Bronx.

She’ll face a crowded field of Long Island opponents in the primary, including Deputy Suffolk County Executive Jon Kaiman, Nassau County Legislator Joshua Lafazan, Reema Rasool, a business owner from Oyster Bay, and Robert Zimmerman, an ex-Democratic National Committee leader.

Biaggi is the latest New York progressive to challenge an ensconced incumbent. Most famously, in 2018, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-The Bronx/Queens) defeated Democratic Party boss Joseph Crowley in a shocking primary wino. That year also marked Biaggi’s own upset entry into state politics.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY
Sen. Alessandra Biaggi at a rally outside the Rikers Island. Monday, Sept. 13, 2021.

“In 2018, I ran against a conservative Democrat who outspent me 10-1, and I won by almost 10 points. I ran as myself, and I plan to do the same in this race,” Biaggi said in a statement, referring to longtime former Sen. Jeffrey Klein.

Redistricting moved the Brooklyn side of Staten Island’s House seat — currently occupied by Republican Rep. Nicole Malliotakis — away from conservative areas in southern Brooklyn and into liberal neighborhoods that include Park Slope, Sunset Park and Gowanus. The new district has attracted the attention of ex-Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is reportedly making calls for support.

Two ex-Army veterans were already gearing up for battle in that district’s Democratic primary: ex-U.S. Rep. Max Rose, a moderate who lost the seat to Malliotakis in 2020, and Brittany Ramos DeBarros, a Democratic Socialists of America member with an anti-war platform.

Rose, who grew up in Park Slope, has been racking up endorsements from Staten Island elected officials who include Savino and Assemblymember Charles Fall. He also leads in fundraising and has told THE CITY that redistricting doesn’t change his calculus.

Ramos DeBarros, however, who recently campaigned outside of the Park Slope Food Coop, said she believes the redistricting is a boost to her bid.

“We’re even more confident about our ability to deliver a big win for the people and to make real change for the communities that are living here,” said Ramos DeBarros.

In Rep. Carolyn Maloney’s Manhattan and Queens district, which shed some progressive voters by gaining more territory in Manhattan, former City Council candidate Maud Maron has joined the race now that lines are finalized. Maron is looking to promote issues such as public safety and wants to get rid of masking in schools.

Her moderate credentials could siphon votes from Maloney while the incumbent tries to fend off a progresive challenge –– this time from Rana Abdelhamid –– for the third election cycle in a row.

Drawn Out

Huge Ma, also known as “Vax Daddy” for his TurboVax site that helped desperate New Yorkers find vaccine shots last spring, made headlines in December when he announced he was running for an Assembly seat in Queens.

But that dream crashed just over a month later when Albany approved the final district shapes. Ma suspended his campaign, since the new lines excluded his residence from the district he wanted to represent.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY
Huge Ma at Communitea in Long Island City, Dec. 10, 2021.

“My home was redrawn well outside of the new District 37 ,” said Ma in a statement. “While I currently feel a great sense of disappointment, I remain open to representing my community in the future.”

By law he is allowed to run once, while living outside the district, because of the new change, but would have had to move to for re-election.

More Socialists Compete for State Senate

The new maps have given progressive Democrats in New York City hope to increase their ranks in the state Legislature, even as the state continues to discover the politics of its new governor.

Democratic Socialist Ali Diini announced her bid to represent Harlem’s newly formed seat on Wednesday.

“I am confident that my message of universal healthcare, environmental justice, and decriminalizing mental illness and poverty will resonate with the district,” said Diini.

And Kristen Gonzalez, a Democratic Socialist and member of Community Board 4 in Corona, Queens, is the first candidate to launch a campaign for the 17th State Senate district, which is in Queens and Brooklyn and includes pockets rich with young progressive voters.

Kristen Gonzalez for New York/Facebook
Kristen Gonzalez is running for State Senate in Queens.

Gonzalez has raised about $24,000 and says she is looking to push progessive legislative goals, including the campaign to make CUNY colleges free and single-payer health care.

“Two years into the pandemic it is incredible to me that people have to decide between a trip to the emergency room or putting food on the table,” said Gonzalez.

But while the reformed district has new areas favorable to her politics, such as Greenpoint in Brooklyn, she still contendsDemocrats should take a look at the redistricting process, since grassroots groups didn’t get to comment on the final maps.

“I think it’s incredibly concerning that our community members did not feel that their voices were heard,” Gonzalez told THE CITY. “As someone who believes in public accountability I think we need to look into how we can empower community voices in decision-making processes like redistricting.”

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