Small but mighty ‘Red Wave’ comes for longtime Democrats in southern Brooklyn

max rose campaign signs after red wave defeat
Democrat Max Rose conceded his election less than an hour after polls closed on Tuesday evening, one of several southern Brooklyn Democrats to lose to Republicans on a challenging election night.
Photo by Paul Frangipane

Though a nationwide “Red Wave” of Republican wins hasn’t materialized the day after the midterm elections, the story is a little different in normally deep-blue Brooklyn.

The borough has the highest number of active registered Democratic voters in the city — 1.1 million, toppling even Manhattan’s 756,581 registered Dems — and played a pivotal role in the 2022 midterms. With their careers on the line, Democratic candidates Governor Kathy Hochul, Letitia James and Thomas DiNapoli made last-minute campaign stops across the borough days before the election, hoping to drum up support in neighborhoods almost guaranteed to back them. 

Red Wave poses threat to longtime Dem incumbents

But, on Tuesday, Brooklyn Republicans celebrated as the Red Wave topped a handful of Democrats in southern Brooklyn. The jewel in the conservative crown is Nicole Malliotakis, the borough’s only congressional Republican, who handily won re-election in NY-11, the city’s only swing district. 

Lapping at Brooklyn’s southern shores, the Red Wave also appears to have unseated two longtime Democratic state Assemblymembers — in Assembly District 45, Republican Michael Novakhov won more than 60% of votes against incumbent Steven Cymbrowitz, a Democrat who has served in the statehouse since 2001.

nicole malliotakis with signs ahead of midterm election
Malliotakis is the crown jewel for the Brooklyn Conservative Party, who also appear to have secured several wins down the ballot.Congressmember Nicole Malliotakis/Twitter

Democrat Peter J. Abbate, Jr., who has served as the Assemblymember in AD49 since 1987, appears poised to lose to Republican Lester Chang by a much smaller margin, with Chang leading by fewer than 700 votes. As of 2 p.m. on Nov. 9, the day after the midterms, the election has not been called.

And in AD46, Alec Brook-Krasny is giving two-term Democratic Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus a run for her money, leading by 797 votes with just about 95% of scanners reporting, according to the New York City Board of Elections. Brook-Krasny, now a Republican, once served as the nabe’s Assemblymember as a Democrat — but switched parties and made a run for his old seat earlier this year.

“Nicole Malliotakis won overwhelmingly, but not only did she win overwhelmingly, she won in Brooklyn, which is a feat,” said Fran Vella-Marrone, chair of the Brooklyn Conservative Party. “In addition, it looks like we’re picking up three Assembly seats — the 45th district is already in the books, but it looks like we’re going to pick up 49, and [beat] Mathylde Frontus — and that we’re going to send Alec Brook-Krasny back as a Republican-Conservative, and I’m very proud of that.”

The party also recruited two incumbent Democrats — state Senator Simcha Felder and Assemblymember Simcha Eichenstein — to run on the Conservative party line. Both won re-election. 

Felder, who is headed into his tenth year in the state Senate, is a Democrat who frequently votes with the legislature’s Republicans. This year, he ran on the Democratic, Republican, and Conservative party lines. Simcha Felder’s Republican ticket earned the lion’s share of his votes.

peter abbate speaking at podium
Peter J. Abbate Jr., who has represented the 49th Assembly District for nearly 40 years, is about 700 votes behind his Republican challenger Lester Chang. Abbate is one of two longtime Democratic representatives who may lose to new Republican candidates. File photo by Paul Frangipane

“This district, among many others across the state, showed up at the polls in record numbers,” Felder said in a statement after his victory. “A bold statement was made about where they stand on the issues, and I hope that every elected official takes note.”

Republicans may have another win pending in the state Senate, where Democrat Iwen Chu holds a lead of just a few hundred votes over Republican Vito LaBella. With 97% of votes reported as of Wednesday afternoon, neither candidate had yet claimed victory, but Vella-Marrone said the party feels “optimistic.”

“All the way around, we had a great night. It was a historic night for Brooklyn and the Republican party,” she said. “This is only the beginning. You’re going to see more and more victories from us.” 

Southern Brooklyn also largely turned out in support of Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin, who conceded the race to Governor Kathy Hochul on Wednesday. The area went blue for then-candidate Andrew Cuomo just eight years ago, according to Steven Romalewski, Director of the CUNY Mapping Service at the Center for Urban Research. 

On Election Day, a number of southern Brooklyn voters cited crime as their reason for voting for Republican candidates — even if they had formerly supported Democrats. 

“I was a Democrat. I changed,” said Jackie, a Bay Ridge voter who voted for Malliotakis and Zeldin. “Crime, that’s my biggest concern. My kids ride the subways, they’ve had incidents on the subways. Just walking the streets of Bay Ridge lately, it’s changed.”

In Borough Park, one voter said people are tired of the same old politicians and regulations.

“We have never, ever seen this kind of turnout,” said Jacob Bard, a Zeldin supporter, outside his polling site. “People are waking up, people are sick and tired of the establishment and we want to see them out. The government is trying to interfere with the education of yeshivas and all that stuff, that’s the number one issue bringing people to the polls.”

Jenny, a Fort Hamilton voter, said she feels unsafe on the subway and walking in Prospect Park after a few dicey incidents. 

“Crime is a very important for the safety of everybody, for kids, for an older person … [and] of course money issues, it’s harder to take out money issues, it’s harder to take out money and get less if you’re at the grocery store or supermarket. That hits everybody.”

Disappointment from Brooklyn Democrats

The few seats lost to Republicans mark a significant change for Brooklyn Democrats — prior to the 2022 midterms, all of the borough’s state Senators and Assemblymembers were Democrats. Now, come January, between two and four of its state-level representatives will be Republicans — and at least two more, Felder and Eichenstein — have willingly run on behalf of the opposing party. 

“We got work to do in Brooklyn,” said Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso on Twitter on Wednesday morning. “At this point, the County and State Democratic party systems are incapable of fulfilling their mission. I hope [Hochul] sees what the country is seeing in NY and begins the conversation that never happens.”

The Brooklyn Democratic Party, headed by Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, is responsible for selecting judicial nominees and supporting Democratic candidates. In the days leading up to the election, some candidates said they had not received any support from the county party — and that the organization had been slacking in organizing Get Out The Vote efforts. 

Dave Stein, a county committee member in AD44, took to Twitter to encourage Brooklynites to donate to the reform group Brooklyn Can’t Wait, and criticized the Brooklyn Dems for failing to support Democratic candidates.

people wait for election results during red wave midterms in southern brooklyn
Max Rose supporters watched election results come in on Nov. 8. Rose lost his congressional contest to Republican incumbent Nicole Malliotakis — and was just one of several southern Brooklyn Democrats who lost to Republicans. Paul Frangipane

“They haven’t used their resources to fund any general elections,” Stein wrote. “They are spiteful that people would run against their picks in the primary. All that led to last night’s national election results. Blue candidates that the current party doesn’t like got no support via dollars or door knocking.” 

Bichotte-Hermelyn said in a statement that the party had reached out to 1.1 million Brooklynites in-person, by mail, and by phone, and celebrated the role Brooklyn played in Schumer and Hochul’s wins.

“There were parts of southern Brooklyn where the headwinds appear to have been too great, but all that means is we go to work to return those seats to the Democratic column in 2024,” the party leader said. 

Additional reporting by Ben Brachfeld and Jada Camille.