Northern BK state senate race heats up as Rep. Niou challenges Brian Kavanagh

Yuh-Line Niou and Brian Kavanagh
Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou is challenging incumbent Brian Kavanagh in June’s Democratic primary.
Wikimedia Commons/New York State Senate

Manhattan Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou is challenging state Sen. Brian Kavanagh, who represents the northern Brooklyn waterfront, in next summer’s Democratic primary — saying the longtime incumbent has failed to deliver “progressive change” throughout his five years in Albany’s upper chamber. 

“New Yorkers need more than a legislator,” Niou said in a statement. “We need an activist and an advocate who can translate this huge moment into real, lasting, progressive change. We have an opportunity to build a government that sees and protects all New Yorkers — including our working families who keep our city running and our loved ones alive, only to be disproportionately hurt first by the pandemic and now by skyrocketing rents and the historic gap between the rick and the rest of us.”

Kavanagh has represented Senate District 26, which includes parts of lower Manhattan, Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn Heights, and the Columbia Waterfront District, since 2017, after a decade in the Assembly. 

Chair of the body’s Committee on Housing, Construction and Community Development, Kavanagh was a champion of the state eviction moratorium, as well as its extension during the pandemic. 

The 54-year-old pol also sponsored a recently-passed bill increasing the amount of rent paid by the Family Homelessness and Eviction Protection Supplement, which aids low-income families facing eviction. 

On the community level, the legislator has been a frequent guest at local community board meetings, taking feedback and discussing his opinions and expertise on neighborhood gripes.

State Sen. Brian Kavanagh speaks at a September press conference outside Brooklyn’s York Street station. Ben Brachfeld

Niou, meanwhile, currently represents Assembly District 65, which includes large parts of lower Manhattan and Governor’s Island. 

The lower-chamber legislator originally lost a special election to replace Sheldon Silver following his conviction and removal from office in 2016, but won the Democratic nomination later that year, and won the general election with a lopsided 76 percent of votes. She then went on to dominate both the 2018 and 2020 elections with roughly 99 percent of votes.

The 38-year-old lawmaker has vocally supported the Child Victims Act, which extended the timeline for victims to report their abuse, and has since sponsored legislation upgrading the severity of sexual harassment charges and establishing a hotline to report workplace sexual harassment. 

Niou has introduced several pieces of legislation aimed at protecting small businesses, especially during the pandemic, and worked alongside her friend and colleague in the senate, Alessandra Biaggi, to write a bill that would have extended the eviction moratorium, though Gov. Kathy Hochul ended up extending the original Tenant Safe Harbor Act.

Following Niou’s announcement, two candidates for the Democratic nomination, Alana Sivin and Illapa Sairitupac, dropped out of the race.

“As the race shapes up now, and as Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou has announced her candidacy for state senate, I believe the best way to accomplish these goals is to support Assemblymember Niou,” Sivin said in a statement posted to Twitter on Sunday. “To be clear, I would not do this for just anyone. But this race has always had a bigger mission: one that needs the joint, collective power of change agents who secured major winds like the Excluded Workers Fund, debt relief for taxi workers, supporting Chinatown businesses in the face of anti-Asian hate, and standing with victims of abuse, harassment, and discrimination despite the political inconvenience. Assemblymember Niou already unites these change agents, and I am happy to affirm that united front by supporting her.”

A former public defender and current legal analyst, Sivin entered the race in September, seeking to become a more progressive representative than Kavanagh had been.

Sairitupac, a social worker and socialist, announced that he would be changing his focus and running to fill Niou’s Assembly seat.

“We’re running a people-powered campaign for immigrants and all working New Yorkers,” Sairitupac said on Twitter. “It’s time this city worked for the many, not the few.”

He had previously been endorsed by the local chapter Democratic Socialists of America.

Kavanagh did not immediately return a request for comment.

“The past two years tested our communities in ways we could never have imagined,” Niou said. “But in our state’s darkest moments, we came together to showcase the fighting spirit that makes New York a role model for the world. As we start down the long road to recovery, if is more important than ever to ensure communities share equally in that recovery. It isn’t enpugh for things to return to a pre-pandemic ‘normal.’ We must learn from history and build a city that is more equitable, safer, and more inclusive than it was before.”

Next year’s primary, which will include gubernatorial as well as state candidates, will be on June 28, and the general election is on Nov. 8. Find information on registering to vote here.