The Working Families Party has endorsed Jelanie DeShong to replace Diana Richardson in central Brooklyn’s 43rd Assembly District, once again pitting an insurgent against the pick of the Kings County Democratic Party in a state legislative special election — just after losing a similar bout in East New York.
DeShong will face off against Democratic nominee Brian Cunningham in the March 22 special election. The 43rd district includes Prospect Lefferts Gardens and parts of Crown Heights and Flatbush, and had been represented by Richardson from 2015 until earlier this year when she vacated her seat to become a Deputy Borough President under new beep Antonio Reynoso.
The news of DeShong’s WFP nomination was first reported by City & State, though DeShong had previously hinted to Brooklyn Paper that he was pursuing a third-party run soon after losing the Democratic nomination to Cunningham in County Committee.
DeShong faces long odds as the WFP nominee: Keron Alleyne, the WFP nominee in this month’s special election for East New York’s 60th Assembly District, handily lost that race by about 60 points to Democratic nominee Nikki Lucas, though Alleyne still intends to contest the Democratic primary in June. The registration statistics are largely similar in both districts: 80 percent of registered voters in the 43rd are Democrats, and the Democratic nomination is a significant boosting signal for Cunningham on the ballot.
But DeShong’s environment is slightly different than Alleyne’s for a few reasons. For one, he still has a cadre of high-profile supporters backing him even after losing the Democratic nomination, including Richardson, state Sen. Zellnor Myrie, US Rep. Yvette Clarke, and Borough President Antonio Reynoso.
Furthermore, the 43rd is likely friendlier territory for the WFP than was the 60th: Richardson herself became only the second official in New York State history to win elected office on just the WFP line in a 2015 special election, though no Democrat appeared on the ballot in that race. The first to do so was Letitia James in a 2003 City Council race in Brownstone Brooklyn.
DeShong, who most recently worked as Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs under Gov. Kathy Hochul and previously worked for Jumaane Williams, believes that all those factors coalesce in the race to give him a decent chance of winning.
“This is a totally different race, a totally different district,” DeShong told Brooklyn Paper on Thursday. “This community is definitely a Working Families Party stronghold. This is a very active electorate. And the message we are relaying on this campaign, of being an independent, progressive voice for the 43rd, is resonating with people. I think they will like the message and they’re gonna come out.”
DeShong and three other candidates unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination but lost to Cunningham, who overwhelmingly won a vote of the district’s County Committee members on Sunday, Feb. 20. While Cunningham garnered over 90 percent of members’ votes, including those aligned with both party leadership and reformist factions, the process in general was clouded by the fact that a significant majority of County Committee members signed their “proxy votes” over to the two District Leaders.
That meant that the District Leaders — Edu Hermelyn, husband of party chair Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, and Sarana Purcell, a close ally of Bichotte Hermelyn — could vote in whatever way they wanted on behalf of a majority of County Committee, making the formal vote something of a formality for Cunningham.
DeShong says that running on the WFP line allows him to be “independent” of the party machine in a way Cunningham wouldn’t be able to be.
“For me, running on the Working Families Party allows me to be able to really be an advocate for the people,” DeShong said. “A lot of people feel that the system of County Committee was a little bit rigged. So I feel that I have the independence to be a true voice for the 43rd, where I don’t have to worry about any political payback.”
Reached for comment, Cunningham said he is glad to see DeShong in the race on the WFP line as it will allow voters a choice in the special election, rather than a predetermined outcome.
“It’s a good thing. I think if you believe in democracy, if you believe in choices, if you believe the electorate will make the right choice, you welcome the opportunity to exchange ideas and values,” Cunningham said. “And I think a campaign gives people an opportunity to look at two candidates, their issues, their history, and be able to vote on that. So I welcome it and I’ve always known we’d have either a special election challenge or a challenge in the primary. So it’s good to know the community has options.”
Cunningham — who ran for City Council in the area’s 40th District in 2017 but lost to Mathieu Eugene, and has previously worked for Sen. Kevin Parker and Councilmember Laurie Cumbo, along with a host of nonprofits — said that he and every other Democratic candidate had also sought the WFP nomination, which was confirmed by a party rep.
The WFP nomination is chosen in stages, the rep said: first the candidate submits a questionnaire, followed by an interview with the local party chapter. Afterwards, the “Regional Advisory Council,” consisting of nonprofit advocacy groups and labor unions making up the WFP coalition, vote on the endorsement, which is then formally approved by party officers.
The 43rd District is reasonably friendly territory for the WFP but by no means its strongest area in Brooklyn, according to an analysis of votes in the 2020 presidential election by Steven Romalewski of the CUNY Graduate Center’s Mapping Service. 13.1 percent of votes in the 2020 presidential election in District 43 were cast for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on the WFP line, compared to 75 percent on the Democratic line. That puts the 43rd at eighth out of 21 Assembly Districts in Kings County in terms of WFP vote proportions; the 60th, by contrast, is ranked 19th out of 21, with only 3.1 percent of voters casting for the WFP.
A spokesperson for the Kings County Democratic Party did not respond to a request for comment.
Early voting in the 43rd Assembly District is set to begin March 12. Check here to see if you live in the district, and to find your polling station.