Two Brooklyn Democratic primaries this week will determine which party controls the state Senate. Currently, only one vote keeps the Republicans in control of the upper chamber in Albany.
One of the races that could shift this balance of power is the contest between Republican Marty Golden and the winner of the Democratic primary between Andrew Gounardes and Ross Barkan. A key consideration for voters choosing between these two Democrats will be who they believe has the best chance to take down the incumbent.
Flipping this district from red to blue would likely give Democrats control of the Senate. In addition, defeating a local Republican icon like Golden would be a bellwether for an even larger blue wave than expected in New York.
Gounardes and Barkan have been fiercely crisscrossing the 22nd District, which includes Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Marine Park, and Gerristen Beach, battling for votes. They have appeared at forums and debates, including one televised on NY1 last week. Gounardes highlighted his local civic record, while pointing out Barkan’s lack of volunteer activities in the community. It seems this contrast has become a key issue in the closing days of the campaign, with a growing feeling that although Barkan may have lived in the district his whole life, he has been invisible until this campaign.
Conversely, Barkan has highlighted his “progressive” bona fides, including an endorsement from Queens’s socialist upstart Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in running to the left of Gounardes. This would normally be a wise strategy in a Democratic primary, but this Southern Brooklyn district is different because there are fewer extreme left Democratic voters. This area of Kings County has long been known as one of the few bastions of Republican strength outside of Staten Island.
Currently Golden, Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, and Congressman Dan Donovan represent these neighborhoods even though Democrats vastly outnumber Republicans. Therefore, many Democratic votes are needed to elect these officials, especially Golden. It would seem that Barkan’s race to the left doesn’t fit this district, while Gounardes’s slightly more moderate views give him an advantage in his primary — and against Golden in a general election.
The senator’s camp believes this as well as evidenced by his staff lighting up social media claiming Barkan won the NY1 debate. By pumping up Barkan and attacking Gounardes, Golden’s loyalists have made it clear that they view Gounardes as the strongest challenger in November.
Democrats have 32 of the 63 seats in the senate, giving them a technical majority; however Simcha Felder, a Democrat, continues to caucus with Republicans. This gives the GOP the needed majority vote to control the power of the chamber. Not surprisingly, Simcha Felder’s primary challenge from Blake Morris is the other borough race that can determine control of the Senate.
If Morris was elected to the Senate, he would caucus with his party and give it its needed 32nd vote to take charge. But, winning this week will not be enough for Morris. He would still have to face Felder on the GOP line in November. That’s right, Felder will be on the Republican line so they will have a re-match if Morris prevails in the primary. If Felder wins, he will walk back into the Senate virtually unopposed in November.
In a recent ad, the Morris campaign assails Felder for his relationship with the GOP writing “While Simcha Felder works only for himself and his fellow Trump Republicans, he ignores the needs of his constituents.” Morris also points out Felder’s role in stopping the senate from renewing the city’s speed-camera legislation. If Morris wins this week, at least he is halfway there.
Felder has also been involved in the “Yeshiva-Gate” issue that has been reported on during the past several months. He held up the state budget process earlier this year to change the law that lowers the educational standards for these schools that have already been the subject of a years-long city probe of their secular education proficiency. The Young Advocates for Fair Education even filed a lawsuit that this Felder amendment violates the religious establishment clause of the first Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by creating a special carve out standards for Yeshivas.
How this issue will play into this primary is an open question.
For these primaries, as Brooklyn goes, so may the New York State Senate.
Bob Capano is the Chairman of the Brooklyn Reform Party.