Your 2016 state primary guide

Your 2016 state primary guide

Brooklyn is headed to the polls once again on Sept. 13 — this time to decide the primaries for state reps. In deep blue King County, these Democratic races will all but decide who takes the seat in November, so get to know the men and women who could be representing you in Albany for years to come. (Looking for more Southern Brooklyn races? You’ll find them with our friends at BrooklynDaily.com)

18th State Senate District Democratic

Williamsburg housing activist Debbie Medina scored an impressive 42 percent of the vote against longtime state Sen. Martin Malave Dilan in the 2014 Democratic primary, and was looking to ride the new wave of fervor for Bernie Sanders-style democratic socialism into the seat, which covers Bushwick, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint.

But her campaign became sidetracked by revelations that she beat one of her sons when he was a kid — a confession she made while pleading for his life in a courtroom after he was convicted of killing his girlfriend’s 3-year-old boy — and she didn’t get the endorsement of the Working Families Parties, who backed her in the previous primary.

Martin Malave Dilan

• The 66-year-old Williamsburg native is married and has three kids, including Bushwick Assemblyman Erik Dilan

• Parents from Puerto Rico

• Previously represented the area as a councilman for 10 years

Assemblywoman Pamela Harris
File photo by Georgine Benvenuto

Debbie Medina

• The 52-year-old Williamsburg native is married and has four kids

• Parents from Puerto Rico

• Has worked as an organizer at community housing organization Los Sures for 29 years


• Both candidates are trying to convince longtime locals that they are the true champions of struggling tenants. Dilan slammed Medina for her association with the New Kings Democrats, a reform club created to oust disgraced Democratic power broker and former Dilan ally Vito “Gropez” Lopez, but Dilan claims represents the young professionals moving into the rapidly gentrifying area. Medina hit back arguing that he has accepted tens of thousands in donations from landlords and the real-estate industry.

Our take:

Dilan is safe. Medina put up impressive results in 2014 and enjoys local support for her tenant advocacy and with the Berner crowd, but with her high-profile family woes and without the of Working Families Party endorsement, it is difficult to imagine her scoring a better result than she managed last time.

25th State Senate District Democratic

Longtime State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery is facing a challenge from upstart Michael Cox to retain her 32-year post representing Fort Greene, Boerum Hill, Red Hook, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Sunset Park, Gowanus, and Park Slope. Cox, a former Obama staffer, is hoping to offer voters a fresh face and paint his incumbent rival as a dinosaur.

Michael Cox.
Michael Cox campaign

Michael Cox

• A lifelong Brooklynite, the 31-year-old lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant with his daughter

• Worked as an eighth-grade teacher in East New York with Teach for America, and most recently in community engagement at New York University

• Worked in federal politics for the Obama administration as an advisor in the United States Commerce Department, and as a staffer for Rep. Gregory Meeks (D–Queens) and former upstate congressman Dan Maffei.

• Sits on the economic development committee of Community Board 2, and is a member of Community Board 8

Velmanette Montgomery

• Originally from Texas, the 74-year-old now lives in Clinton Hill and is married with a son

• Became the first New York state senator to have a baby while in office in 1987

Karen Cherry.
Karen Cherry Facebook

• Before taking office, she worked as a teacher, adjunct professor, and day-care director

• Has a master’s degree in education from New York University


• Cox claims that Montgomery has become stagnant after more than three decades in office and isn’t doing enough to address the growing disparity between the district’s richest and poorest, and the education, housing, and criminal justice issues facing struggling communities.

• Montgomery is known for championing women’s rights, and Cox is a dude

• Some voters may remember when Montgomery, who is black, made city-wide headlines by saying, “White people don’t eat the way we do,” at a public meeting about the closure of a Clinton Hill grocery store in 2014. She later apologized, but that got far less attention.

Our take:

Montgomery is generally well liked by constituents, respected by the local political establishment, and will keep her seat. But Cox boasts an impressive resume, strong local bona fides, and has campaigned hard, so expect him to make a dent and show up on ballots in future elections.

State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery.

44th Assembly District Democratic

Assemblyman James Brennan abruptly announced his exit from Albany after 31 years representing the district — which includes Kensington, Windsor Terrace, Park Slope, Greenwood Heights, Borough Park, Flatbush, and Ditmas Park — at the end of May and was quick to endorse 29-year-old lawyer Robert “Bobby” Carroll as his successor. Carroll quickly amassed an enviable list of endorsements from 12 other elected officials including local Councilman Brad Lander, nine political organizations, and 16 unions.

Brennan’s announcement came just before the petitioning period began and Carroll’s opponents — public-school teacher Robert Curry-Smithson and community organizer Troy Odendhal — say they only had a short time to put together their campaigns, while others say they decided not to bother due to the brief time frame.

Robert Carroll

• Born-and-raised Windsor-Terrace resident, he is single and has no kids

• A member of Community Board 7, the Park Slope Civic Council, and the Windsor-Terrace Food Co-op

• The youngest person to be elected president of the long-running Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, which his grandfather co-founded

• His dad John Carroll, also a former president of the club and also a lawyer, ran unsuccessfully against now-Mayor DeBlasio in the Democratic primary for the local Council seat in 2001. His cousin is Bay Ridge Democratic District Leader Kevin Peter Carroll

State Sen. Martin Malave Dilan.

• A theater buff, he wrote a play called “The Believers” about Brooklyn politics

Robert Curry-Smithson

• A 33-year-old Kensington resident who has lived in the district for three years

• This Vermont native is a strong supporter of Bernie Sanders and first felt the Bern in the 10th grade, when he volunteered for the democratic socialist’s 1998 congressional campaign

• Works as a history teacher at NEST+m, a Manhattan public school for gifted and talented students, where he was elected chapter leader of the United Teachers Federation — though the union is endorsing Carroll

Troy Odendhal

• A 45-year-old lifelong Brooklynite who currently resides in Kensington with his wife and daughter

• Previously worked with community network Pacifica Radio, where he served as a correspondent for Latin America from 2006–2012

Debbie Medina.

• At one time worked with the mayor’s task force on HIV and AIDS

• Has been a member of many activist and civic groups, including Uprose, the Native American Youth Council, and Occupy Wall Street


• The two underdogs have both criticized the seamless passing of the torch from Brennan to a politically-connected 20-something, characterizing it as establishment cronyism — and they’re not the only locals bent out of shape about it

• All three candidates are Berni-crats with progressive reform agendas focused on improving public education and cleaning up Albany, though Odendhal is also pitching himself as a working-class man who will fight gentrification and push for more affordable housing.

• Carroll has zeroed in on local anxieties about a planned express F train service skipping stops in the district, promising to upgrade the track to increase capacity,

Our take:

It’s the election Carroll was born to win!

Troy Odendhal.

46th Assembly District Democratic

Freshman Assemblywoman Pamela Harris is battling longtime politico Kate Cucco for the seat that meanders from Bay Ridge down to Coney Island and Sea Gate. The pair faced off last year, but Harris emerged successful when the party nominated her in a special election. But the race is symbolic of a larger struggle between Bay Ridge and Coney Island political clubs vying against one another for control of southwestern Brooklyn.

Katie A. Cucco

• Unmarried, lives in Bay Ridge, no children.

• Former chief of staff to Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny, who stepped down in 2015.

• Boyfriend Jonathan Yedin is the former executive director of the Brooklyn Democratic County Committee.

Pamela Harris

• Married, lives in Coney Island, no children.

• Retired corrections officer and community organizer.

Robert Curry-Smithson.

• First black candidate in the city to win in a majority-white district.


• Harris has fought off accusations she’s too cozy with the non-profit she founded before taking office and which operated out of her home while she was in Albany.

• Critics have questioned Cucco’s politic because she interviewed to run on the Conservative party line last year.

• The Bay Ridge–Coney Island district hasn’t had a rep from the Ridge since the 1940s, and Cucco says she wants to amplify neighborhood’s’s voice in Albany.

Our prediction:

Too close to call. Harris and Cucco both vied for the nomination in last year’s special election to replace Brook-Krasny, but it’s not clear how voters would have ranked them, because the county committee hand-picks nominees in special elections, and it went with Harris. But the battle lines are drawn with Bay Ridge on one side and Coney Island on the other — it’s all about who can get out the vote on primary day.

56th Assembly District Democratic

Outgoing Assemblywoman Annette Robinson tapped Community Board 3 chair and local businesswoman Tremaine Wright as her heir apparent after announcing she was retiring in March, and Wright promptly gained the endorsement of the influential Vanguard Independent Democratic Association. But she faces a tough fight from Karen Cherry, a longtime community activist and staffer for Bushwick Assemblyman Erik Dilan.

Kate Cucco
Kate Cucco

Expect this to be one of the most competitive races in the borough, as both hopefuls are familiar faces in the district — which covers Bedford-Stuyvesant and part of Crown Heights — and have powerful political allies.

Tremaine Wright

• A lifelong Bedford–Stuyvesant resident, she is 43 years old and unmarried with no kids

• A former lawyer, Wright studied under President Obama at the University of Chicago Law School, and later opened popular neighborhood coffee shop Common Grounds

• Challenged then-Councilman Al Vann for his seat in 2009

• Wright has been a member of Community Board 3 for 13 years, and has served as chairwoman for the last three years

Karen Cherry

• A 51-year–old single mother of two boys who also lives in Bedford–Stuyvesant

Tremaine Wright.
Sakiyah Wright

• A housing activist, Cherry grew up in the Tompkins Houses, where was part of the Tompkins Houses Tenants Union

• Cherry worked for former Congressman Ed Towns for more than 20 years, and now works as community liaison for Dilan


• Cherry is promoting herself as a champion for people in need, especially those in public housing. She recently gained press for railing against leaky and moldy pipes at the Tompkins Houses, forcing the New York City Housing Authority to apologize and make repairs.

• Both candidates are pushing hard on health-care issues in an area where many are uninsured but have seen several local safety net hospitals flatline in recent decades and almost lost cash-strapped Interfaith Medical Center a few years back. Cherry used to sit on Interfaith’s community advisory board and says she’ll fight to keep it open, while Wright is an advocate for single-payer health care.

Our take:

Wright has the edge thanks to her high profile in the community and endorsements from the Vanguard Independent Democratic Association and a host of area politicos. But we won’t rule out an upset from Cherry, who has plenty of supporters herself and has campaigned hard.