A Republican candidate who’s voiced support for the far-right conspiracy theory QAnon has pulled ahead in the race for the Coney Island Assembly seat, which has been held by Democrats for more than 80 years.
Mark Szuszkiewicz, a Coney Island native, claimed 51 percent of the in-person vote in the 46th Assembly District, which encompasses Sea Gate and Coney Island, as well as portions of Brighton Beach, Gravesend, and Bay Ridge. He leads freshman Democratic Assemblywoman Mathylde Frontus by 2,822 votes.
The Board of Elections still has to tally more than 5,000 absentee ballots from the district, which will decide the race by a razor-thin margin. As of Nov. 4, Democrats had sent in 2,660 more absentee ballots than Republicans in District 46 — meaning that Frontus would have to capture third-party votes or rake in more absentee ballots before officials start counting absentees on Nov. 9 in order to close the gap.
Szuszkiewicz — who describes himself as a financial adviser, actor, and cross country truck driver — told Brooklyn Paper that if elected, he would develop vocational job training for students, pass bank regulation that reins in predatory interest and overdraft fees, and address local quality of life concerns.
He’s also put forward some unorthodox proposals, such as a bill that would create a mandatory public school class where students would learn mechanical skills and build their own desks.
Szuszkiewicz’s social media activity is equally unorthodox. In several Instagram and Twitter posts, he has voiced support for QAnon, a right-wing conspiracy theory that believes Democratic pedophiles are running a child sex-trafficking ring and conspiring against President Donald Trump.
The theory — which is widely considered anti-Semitic because of its focus on prominent Jewish figures — alleges that the Satanic Democrats drink the blood of the children they kidnap.
Szuszkiewicz has included the hashtags #QAnon and #Q in several Instagram and Twitter posts, and has peddled popular QAnon theories. In one Instagram post from July, Szuszkiewicz suggested that actor Tom Hanks became a Greek citizen after Greece declared pedophilia a disability. (Hanks did become a Greek citizen this year, but Greece has never declared pedophilia a disability.)
“@tomhanks becoming a citizen of Greece after pedophilia is considered a disability. Coincidence?” Szuszkiewicz wrote, followed by the hashtags for QAnon, Q, and the group’s slogan.
Szuszkiewicz has also reposted images to Instagram denying the severity of COVID-19 and claiming that face masks spread diseases.
The social media posts aren’t the candidate’s first brush with controversy. In 2008, Szuszkiewicz was indicted for aggravated assault and criminal contempt after he allegedly stalked a work associate, calling her up to 10 times a day, leaving strange messages, and writing a “masterpiece” poem that involved his coworker saving the world, according to case filings.
Szuszkiewicz was slapped with felony and misdemeanor charges, but the court vacated his felony conviction after he sought psychiatric treatment and became sober. He was fired from JPMorgan because of the incident, and later sued the company, arguing unsuccessfully that they fired him because of his mental disability, the case filings show.
A spokesperson said that that the incident is irrelevant to Szuszkiewicz’s campaign.
“Twelve years ago, Mark — like many Americans in all walks of life — had a mental health incident, which was ultimately discharged,” said Szuszkiewicz’s campaign spokesman in a statement. “Bringing this matter up now is a political smear — for what? It’s a disgusting and desperate personal attack made after the voters have spoken.”
The spokesman, who wished not to be identified, added that Szuszkiewicz’s social media posts supporting QAnon have been available to the public for months.
“As for Mark’s social media repostings, that’s an issue the voters knew about already. Election Day is over. It’s time to govern,” he said.
An outlier in a Democratic district
Szuszkiewicz’s success has shocked Coney Island, a Democratic stronghold in southern Brooklyn. One politico said the area hasn’t voted Republican in approximately 100 years.
“‘Surprised’ is an understatement,” said Ralph Perfetto, a third-generation Coney Islander and former district leader, about Szuszkiewicz’s lead. “In my lifetime, I’ve never seen Coney Island in any way shape or form come close to becoming a Republican district.”
A map outlining the Assembly race show that Coney Islanders voted primarily for Frontus, but Republican votes from Brighton Beach, Dyker Heights, Sea Gate, and parts of Fort Hamilton gave Szuszkiewicz an edge.
Szuszkiewicz raised only $1,420 for his campaign — about $500 of which came from family members — compared to Frontus’ more than $18,600 in donations. But Perfetto speculated that the pro-Trump fervor in southern Brooklyn could have helped Szuszkiewicz, with Republicans voting red down the ballot.
The 46th District’s ever-changing borders, which now include more conservative sections of Dyker Heights and Bay Ridge, could have also swung the race Szuszkiewicz’s favor, as did the large eastern European community in Brighton Beach’s Trump Village and the Warbasse Houses, Perfetto said.
“I’m sure that helped him out,” he said.
And though the votes aren’t all in, Szuszkiewicz’s campaign is sure he will be victorious.
“The diverse voters of Brooklyn’s 46th Assembly District have chosen Republican Mark Szuszkiewicz, his campaign spokesman said. “Southern Brooklyn families have rejected — for offices at every level of government — the radical left turn of New York Democrats.”
Frontus, meanwhile, has not yet conceded, maintaining that it is still “within the realm of possibility” that she comes out on top of Szuszkiewicz.
“Either way, we must wait until every single vote is counted before we can say with certainty who won the race,” she said in a statement on social media.