Cuomo calls off special election for Bushwick council seat, infuriating progressives

Governor Cuomo at his April 25 press briefing.
Darren McGee/Office of Governor Andrew Cuomo

Gov. Andrew Cuomo cancelled the June 23 special election for the 37th Council District seat in Bushwick via executive order on April 25, provoking criticism from progressive pols who said the race was rigged in favor of a party favorite.

“This is by far the most blatant anti-democratic power grab,” said candidate Sandy Nurse in a statement. “Unless Mayor de Blasio steps in to enforce the City Charter and the court agrees, there will only be one candidate left on the ballot. That is not democracy.”

Nurse was vying for the seat against local district leader Darma Diaz, who has the support of the both Brooklyn Democratic Party leader Rodneyse Bichotte and former Councilman Rafael Espinal, who abruptly vacated the position in January to take on a new gig heading the Freelancers Union.

There were initially two separate elections on two separate dates — a non-partisan special election to fill the seat immediately that was slated to take place on April 28, and a primaries on June 23 to nominate a candidate for the general election in November. 

The winner of the special election would have served as the district’s Council member until January, when the winner of the June and November elections would have taken over to serve the remainder of Espinal’s term until the end of 2021.

In an effort to limit the amount of times Brooklynites headed to the voting booth in the middle of the pandemic, Cuomo initially moved the special election to coincide with the June 23 Council primary and the now-canceled presidential nominating contest.

Now, Cuomo decided to take another turn, axing the special election entirely, thereby simplifying the ballot for voters — while also kicking insurgents out of the race.

Since Nurse only made the ballot for the special and not the primary election, that move effectively removes her from the contest and results in Diaz running unopposed in the primary and being all but guaranteed a victory in the heavily-blue district in November.

Cuomo’s decision to cancel the Bushwick Council primary on April 24 came a full day after he called off other special elections, like the race for Queens borough president. Why Cuomo waited an additional 24 hours to nix the Brooklyn race is unclear, and Cuomo’s press office did not return a request for comment to clarify.

Without a special election, the district — which also stretches into Cypress Hills, Brownsville, Ocean Hill, and East New York — will go without a dedicated legislative representative for almost a year from when Espinal gave up the post.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson will continue to manage the district for the rest of 2020, but Nurse — in a statement signed by a host of progressive electeds and political clubs — accused Cuomo of depriving a predominantly black and Hispanic area of having a full-time rep in the city legislature.

“By canceling the special election yesterday, the governor is saying that a high needs African-American and Latino community should lack representation for nearly a full year,” she said.

Diaz said Cuomo’s decision came as a surprise but she supported it. The district leader was previously eager to get the seat filled as soon as possible so that the neighborhoods would have a representative.

However, the local politico claimed that voters could be confused by having to vote twice for the same office on the same day and that — if they choose to vote by mail — sending in two different ballot sheets would further risk spreading the virus. 

“It was hard to explain that it was two elections in one day — that eliminated confusion about that,” Diaz said. “If we can wait till January 1 and save one life, I want to save one life.”