2020 Primary Endorsements

It’s election day. While I understand that vote-by-mail and Early Voting have been underway for a while, I been urged recently to provide an endorsement breakdown by people who were asking for guidance.

So, if you have not yet voted, or you want to change your mail-in vote by going in person, here is my characteristically deeply researched endorsement list for Lower Manhattan with a special shout-out for the reformers taking on the machine in Queens.

And, if you want to share this anywhere, please feel free. Here’s a link to the Medium Article version (caps sensitive): bit.ly/BY2020Primary.

Finally, if you need to find your polling location head here. If you’re curious about what you might find on the ballot, deadlines, etc., here’s a FAQ I wrote.

President

I imagine everyone has chosen their candidate already. All I can say are three things:

1. All the candidates are on the ballot!

2. Delegates matter! Don’t just vote for Joe Biden because you think he will win, he’s already the nominee. Any candidate getting 15% or more of the vote in a Congressional District is eligible to have representation in Party rule making and platform creation. Strategically, this means you should vote for whoever is closest to your position who you think will crack 15%. For example, if you’re torn between Warren and Sanders, but don’t think one of them will get 15% in your district, vote for the one who will because it will help them accrue delegates.

3. You can vote for delegates separately from President. Here’s the explainer I shared in the last email I sent.

Queens:

I am not going to weigh in on the Borough President’s race. However, as a reform activist deeply engaged across the city, I strongly endorse the efforts of Queens residents to open up their County political party system.

If you live in any of these Queens districts, please vote for the the folks listed here. Especially my personal friends:

* Moumita Ahmed (AD 24 Part A)
* Maria Kaufer (AD 28 Part A)
* Ethan Felder (AD 28 Part A)
* Heather Dimitreadis (AD 28 Judicial Delegate)
* Emilia Decaudin (AD 37 Part A)
* Jesse Laymon (AD 37 Part A)

You all rock!

Congressional District 7

Verdict: Nydia Velazquez

There’s not really any contest here. Ultimately, though, Nydia has been a strong progressive voice for Brooklyn and the small part of Manhattan she represents. She’s endorsed by pretty much all the reputable Progressive organizations in the area and is a good pick.

If you have questions, please feel free to email me at ben@benjaminyee.com

Congressional District 10

Verdict: Jerry Nadler

As in the CD-12 Race, there are several candidates running for Congress in CD-10. That said, the money race is, once again, between only two: Jerry Nadler and Linsday Boylan.

I find Boylan to be a good and charismatic candidate; however, Nadler is an outstanding Rep. There are electeds you invite and they never come. Jerry Nadler comes to anything. Not only does he come to anything, he answers any question. Not only does he answer any question, he answers fully, directly, and in an hour-long retelling of history and law. Basically, the guy knows his stuff and is more than happy to be available to the community. As Chair of the Judiciary committee in the House, he also affords our District a little special access into Democratic Party Leadership (as a Chair) and some of the most important legislative proceedings of the day (like impeachment and judicial selection). For these reasons and others, Jerry Nadler is a good choice for CD-10.

Congressional District 12

Verdict: Carolyn Maloney or Peter Harrison

An endorsement of strategy

This is the endorsement that encouraged me to write an endorsement article. People have been asking me: Carolyn Maloney or Suraj Patel. Here’s what I’ve been saying:

First, there are actually four candidates in the race: Carolyn Maloney, Suraj Patel, Lauren Ashcraft and Peter Harrison.

However, the money race is really between Maloney and Patel. That means that, even though the other candidates are more Progressive and have bigger new ideas, it’s likely to come down to one of the two sending mail. The proof is in the pudding, people only ask me about Suraj and Maloney, almost oblivious to the fact that there are two other candidates mere days before the election (though voting has been ongoing).

Maloney has been in office for a long time. She flipped the District from R to D back in the early 90s. She was able to do this because she isn’t a died-in-the-wool progressive. The district has changed since then, and as a general rule, she’s a reliable D in the House. That said, a Congressional seat like this can be a life-long position (case in point). In my opinion, Patel is not the person to represent our District for the foreseeable future for various reasons. Aside from the negative components some people have asked about, one of the things I was watching closely was what Patel did when he lost two years ago. In my 2018 endorsements, I made the case that, if you want to see someone’s true colors, watch what they do when they lose. From what I can tell, Patel didn’t engage on any issue or fight in the community. For me, that’s the sign of someone who’s doing it for the cool factor.

So here’s the deal: No matter what Maloney does, she won’t be able to stay in her seat much longer. She’ll be retiring in the not too distant future and that makes me prefer her to a potential 20 or 30 year term for Patel. Hopefully, we’ll be given a better crop of candidates in the next 2 or 4 years. It’s not ideal, but it’s the strategic thing to do.

However, if you just can’t bear to do that, Peter Harrison has impressed me with his ability to talk deep into policy. While I like Lauren Ashcraft, I’d suggest Harrison as your choice of reckless abandon.

Assembly District 65

Verdict: Grace Lee

An endorsement of lived experience

This is probably a surprising endorsement for many. The incumbent, Yuh Line Niou, is a darling of progressive politics. I’m a progressive, what gives?

At its core, Progressivism is the idea that the government can be a force for good in peoples’ lives. Ultimately, though, the Progressive issues that get reported don’t always mean that the Progressive issues at home are being addressed and while impassioned and tearful speeches on the floor of the legislature are great news, they don’t alter the outcome of the major legislation that grabs headlines. Just go back and watch when then Progressive darling Diane Savino — now a Democratic pariah for her role in the IDC — made what was nearly a career defining Marriage Equality speech. The vote unerringly fell short by one that year because of a Republican Senate, as sure as in 2020 headline bills sail through the Democratic controlled legislature.

For all the noisemaking in Albany though, Progressivism must also happen for the people in the district that rely on their representatives. AD 65 is at extreme risk of flooding, but representation in the Assembly had little to say about that issue until this year. Grace Lee started her campaign calling for action. Small businesses are shuttering left and right, even before the Pandemic — Chinatown was particularly affected and now suffers excruciating losses — where is the relief that will prevent major corporations from taking over that real estate and transforming our community? Grace, who started a small business, understands it’s the local shops that make lower Manhattan the lifeblood of New York. AD 65 has a tremendous number of Title I schools, where is the champion for funding downtown? Grace has made education funding and equity her top priority. A major developer is on the precipice of digging up a toxic mercury site at 250 Water Street, next to two schools. The state couldn’t even provide funding for an independent engineering assessment.

Enter Grace Lee, whose children attend one of the schools by 250 Water Street. When local leaders wouldn’t act, she co-founded Children First, heading up a grassroots effort to stall the development that a State entity had granted liability insurance. Where the State failed to provide an independent assessment, Grace wrested that money from the developer itself, working in tandem with Borough President Gale Brewer.

In the end, Grace earns my endorsement, and the endorsement of one of New York City’s oldest Progressive and Reform clubs — Downtown Independent Democrats (DID), for three reasons.

  1. Grace Lee is a competent, professional candidate. She was on the right side of the issues locals cared about — from good cause eviction to environmental concerns. She spoke often and early about the challenges facing the community in the district, making education, housing equity and the environment key planks before any other candidates. You can read more about why DID endorsed Grace in their 2020 DNotes.
  2. Grace is also a lower Manhattan native for over 15 years, and the only candidate who moved to the district more than a year before running for office. She has chosen to raise her family here, participating in the civic life of Manhattan, not cutting her political teeth in another borough. The concerns of her neighbors are her own, she knows the people, and she takes action not just because she is running for office.
  3. NYCHA tenants and District Leader Johnathan Gardenhire support Grace Lee, both of which are critical voices for underprivileged and black and brown communities in the district. After Johnathan Gardenhire’s win as a young, District Leader of color in AD65’s NYCHA developments last year, he decided to join forces with DID instead of starting his own club. It’s not my place to talk about his decision or the struggles of his community, but suffice it to say he and his constituents felt abandoned by their local elected leadership. Jonathan and NYCHA tenants were advocates for Grace. Their joining DID had an important impact on the composition of the club and the vote to endorse Grace, as well as mine. You can read more from Jonathan on the matter here.

In the face of a danger to her community, Grace organized parents from two different schools to successfully stall a potentially disastrous development plan — the fight is still ongoing. When it came to club endorsements, Grace Lee called every member of every club downtown. When COVID-19 hit, Grace almost immediately transitioned her campaign into a delivery service for food and PPE to seniors and underprivileged residents in NYCHA. Just one of the reasons I’ve seen that Johnathan Gardenhire and the NYCHA tenant leaders who represent the majority of black and brown communities of AD 65 district, back Grace.

Finally, Grace gives me confidence in her bottom-up, grassroots activism. I have been involved in Progressive and Reform politics for over 10 years. Nothing is more important to me than a transparent and vibrant democratic culture where I live and around New York City. When Yuh Line first ran, eyebrows were raised for me, and others’, with her quick move from Queens; sudden support by the WFP — which also backed Queens Boss Joe Crowley — over local candidates; attempts to challenge local progressive organizations after winning; and her backing a loyalist of the Bronx Party, which was allied with Queens, for AD65 State Committee in 2018. Since Crowley’s loss, some of these dynamics have changed, which is great. Still, Grace’s organizing is the sort of activism that defines the open politics of Manhattan.

I have spent a long time studying the hidden aspects of New York political culture and the public show that often plasters over the local lack of action and activism, as well as the sort of behind-the-scenes maneuvering it would take pages to recount (email me, we’ll grab a drink over Zoom). I care deeply about the local issues that actually affect the residents of where I live, and I expect our elected officials to be on the forefront of proposing ideas and taking action. This endorsement is in service of that.

Assembly District 66: Female State Committee

Verdict: Rachel Lavine

For the last four years I have served on the State Committee with Rachel Lavine. In my experience, her knowledge of the Party mechanics, and her role as Chair of the Progressive Caucus has proven an invaluable resource to passing reforms and resolutions through the State Committee. I join my other club, and another long-standing Progressive and Reform organization, Village Independent Democrats in endorsing her.

Assembly District 66: Male State Committee

Verdict: It’s me, and I’m uncontested.

But in case you were wondering why there’s no Male State Committee on the ballot for AD66, it’s because NY has a terrible law which hides any uncontested election on the ballot. As a result, many, many offices remain invisible to voters because there is only one candidate.

Civil Court District 1

Verdict: John Wang

Judicial races are often overlooked, but if Donald Trump has taught us anything, it’s that voting matters and judges are important! That’s why, in the three person race for Civil Court, I suggest voting for John Wang. John has been a stellar Housing Court judge for years and was the first to decide that the new housing laws protecting tenants should be applied to pending cases, saving New Yorkers from eviction and unfair landlord practices.

John has been endorsed by just about every political organization in the area, as well as elected officials all the way up to the City Wide Public Advocate. So even if you’ve never heard of Civil Court, that should give you an idea of just how important our judges are.

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