Democratic socialist Marcela Mitaynes on the verge of unseating 26-year Assembly incumbent

Sunset Park Assembly candidate Marcela Mitaynes is just 131 votes away from surpassing incumbent Félix Ortiz in the District 51 race, according to an unofficial tally.
Photo by Caroline Ourso

Democratic socialist Marcela Mitaynes is votes away from overtaking 26-year incumbent Félix Ortiz in the Sunset Park Assembly race, trailing him by only 131 votes, according to an unofficial tally on Wednesday morning. 

The updated ballot count — which was calculated by the Board of Elections and relayed to Brooklyn Paper by candidate Katherine Walsh — cuts Ortiz’s election night lead over Mitaynes by more than half.

The Board of Elections began processing absentee ballots from Assembly District 51 on Tuesday, which encompasses Sunset Park, Red Hook, and a sliver of Bay Ridge. The district houses two contested races: one for the Sunset Park Assembly seat, and another for the District 25 State Senate seat, where Democratic socialist Jabari Brisport narrowly beat out Bedford-Stuyvesant Assemblywoman Tremaine Wright on election night.

The two races are the first contested elections in Brooklyn being counted since the Board of Elections began processing absentee ballots on July 8. 

In the District 51 Assembly race, three progressive insurgents are vying to oust Assemblyman Ortiz, whose office was mired in controversy after a longtime staffer pled guilty to embezzling $80,000 in campaign funds last year. 

The election is the first time Ortiz has faced Democratic opposition since 2014, when Cesar Zuniga, the present-day board chair of Community Board 7, ran against him and won 28 percent of the vote.

Ortiz’s progressive opponents have slammed him on the campaign trail for taking corporate donations and for allegedly failing to speak up about issues in the community. 

“We have been in a housing crisis, and it has been worsened by COVID, yet you continue to take money for the real estate and hotel industry,” said Walsh, an urban planner and climate activist during a live-streamed June 19 debate. “We see in the campaign contributions of your most recent filings that you didn’t receive a single dollar from anyone who’s lived in our district.”

Ortiz still came out ahead on election night with nearly 38 percent of the vote, raking in 2,391 votes compared to Mitaynes’ 1,927, Walsh’s 1,282, and Genesis Aquino’s 574.

The Board of Elections, however, has received more than 5,000 absentee ballots from the district — nearly the same amount of votes that were cast in person.

Campaign staffers and Board of Elections officials open absentee ballots and check each ballot for disqualifying features at the Sunset Park warehouse.Photo by Rose Adams

On Tuesday, candidates and campaign staffers gathered at the Board of Elections’ warehouse in Sunset Park to oversee the absentee ballot counting process. One staffer from each campaign is allowed to check the ballots for any disqualifying features — such as a missing postmark or signature — and may keep an informal tally of the votes as they go. Qualified ballots are then entered into the Board of Elections’ scanner for a count. 

As of 11:30 am on July 15, one day after officials began counting absentee ballots for the race, the scanner counted 810 votes for Mitaynes, 548 votes for Walsh, and 477 votes for Ortiz — cutting Ortiz’s initial lead over Mitaynes by 333 votes, according to detailed machine readout of the results obtained by Walsh. 

Mityanes’ campaign, who keeps their own tally of the absentee ballots, reported a higher ballot count at 2:30 pm on Wednesday, with 1,082 absentee votes for Mitaynes and 611 for Ortiz. Combined with the election night votes, that brings Mitaynes to seven votes more than Ortiz.

The discrepancy between the scanners’ and the campaign’s tallies may come from the delayed scanner readings, which don’t count the ballots as quickly as staffers process them, according to a Board of Elections spokeswoman.

“It’s possible to get a quicker count at the table because the staff scans in batches, not as each ED is complete,” said Valerie Velazquez.

The candidates vying for the District 25 State Senate seat, held by outgoing Senator Velmanette Montgomery, also visited the Sunset Park warehouse for the July 14 absentee ballot count. Brisport, a school teacher, won the race by nearly 4,000 votes, but the Board of Elections has received 27,200 absentee ballots that could sway the race.

Brisport said the delays caused by the record-high numbers of absentee ballots are somewhat frustrating, but that he hopes it helps expand the use of mail-in ballots in future elections. 

“I’m actually happy that we’re doing this because it’d be great if we just had a standard mail-in ballot process for all New Yorkers. I think it’ll increase turn out,” he said. “So I’m glad that it’s happening now, and hopefully whatever we learn from this process we can make better.” 

Walsh, who has attended the absentee ballot count in Sunset Park since it began on July 9, said that she goes to the warehouse to keep an eye on the ballot-counting process. 

“As a candidate, I’ve taken this absentee ballot count process as part of my responsibility of looking out for the district,” she said. “I ran for this race because I’m fighting to make sure that we protect the district in all the ways that we can, and watching the absentee ballot process is one step of that.” 

Official results from June 23 primary elections will not be released until all the races are counted, according to the Board of Elections.