Emily Gallagher defeats longtime north Brooklyn Assembly incumbent Joe Lentol

Emily Gallagher (left) defeated longtime incumbent Joe Lentol (right) in the hotly-contested Assembly primary on July 22.
Emily for Assembly/Wiki Commons

Insurgent Greenpoint Assembly candidate Emily Gallagher has officially defeated 23-term incumbent Joe Lentol in the Democratic primary election. 

Lentol, who had held the seat in the state’s lower chamber since Richard Nixon was president, conceded the race in an email to supporters on Wednesday, highlighting some of his previous legislative work and calling it an “honor” to have served the neighborhood. 

“It’s decided: The voters in the 50th Assembly District voted for change. It’s been a great honor to represent the people of North Brooklyn in the Assembly,” said Lentol. “I’m proud of my years of service, delivering important legislation and always attending to constituents’ needs.”

Gallagher, a 36-year-old Greenpoint resident and local Community Board 1 member challenging Lentol from the left, pulled ahead of her 77-year-old opponent during the Board of Elections absentee ballot count on July 21, but the upstart held off on declaring victory, with hundreds of mail-in votes still to be counted the following day, along with affidavit votes afterward.

“With the in-person vote included, we’re now ahead by 265. And our lead is growing,” Gallagher said on Twitter Tuesday night, with a picture of mail-in votes counted by BOE’s scanners.

After Lentol officially bowing out of the race Wednesday morning, Gallagher released a thread on Twitter celebrating her win. 

“This was a collective and truly grassroots campaign, powered by a deep love for North Brooklyn and a desire to make it better,” the presumptive nominee wrote on July 22. “Thank you so much for believing in me, against all the odds.”

When nominated, Gallagher is likely to sail to victory in the November general elections in the heavily-blue 50th Assembly District, which covers Greenpoint and Williamsburg, along with the Navy Yard and patches of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill.

The defeat follows another upset state election after Democratic socialist Marcela Mitaynes ousted 26-year incumbent Félix Ortiz for the 51st Assembly District seat in Sunset Park on July 16. 

Lentol initially withstood her challenge with a majority of in-person votes from the June 23 primary elections, winning 57.4 percent over Gallagher’s 42 percent, or 6608 votes and 4845 votes, respectively.

Assemblyman Joe Lentol.File photo by Aaron Short

But voters cast 9689 ballots by mail especially in neighborhoods that voted more favorably for Gallagher, such as Greenpoint and northern Williamsburg, while Lentol garnered a bulk of votes in southern Williamsburg, a mainly Hasidic-Jewish area.

BOE preliminary deemed thousands of the returned ballots invalid ahead of the start of the vote count, and Lentol’s campaign arrived at the Board’s Sunset Park warehouse on July 20 looking to invalidate even more, a move Gallagher decried as undemocratic.

Lentol assumed office in 1973, a third-generation state lawmaker, after his father and grandfather also served in Albany’s lower legislative chamber. Gallagher is only the fourth primary challenger Lentol has faced during his almost half-a-century tenure, and the first since 2010.

Gallagher, who grew up upstate and moved to Greenpoint in 2006, works at an education nonprofit and researches sewage overflow and Superfund sites, The City reported in December.

She is an environmental and tenants rights organizer and an advocate for victims of sexual violence, having herself survived sexual assault, according to the local news site, which she told that her frustrations with the political establishment inspired her to run for office.

Lentol, in his statement closed with wishing his successor well, but warning that she will have a busy time ahead representing northern Brooklynites in the state capital.

“My successor will be busy as the new Assembly Member. I wish her well as she faces the enormous challenges ahead,” Lentol said.

Gallagher thanked her predecessor for his decades of public service and said she looks forward to taking over the reins at the beginning of 2021. 

“Joe is beloved by many and I’m excited to see all the good work he will do as a community member,” she said on Twitter. “I have deep respect for him and those who love him, and I look forward to being his successor.”

Correction (Wednesday, July 22, 5:48 pm): A previous version of this article falsely stated that Gallagher was only the second primary challenger Lentol has faced during his tenure. She was in fact his fourth primary challenger.