Hakeem Jeffries Ally In New York Legislature Beats Back Socialist Challenge

Hakeem Jeffries Ally In New York Legislature Beats Back Socialist Challenge

Hakeem Jeffries. Editorial credit: lev radin / Shutterstock.com

By Jeff Coltin | Politico

NEW YORK — Hakeem Jeffries dealt the socialists in his backyard another loss Tuesday night, as the Democratic House minority leader’s favored Assembly candidate defeated a reelection challenger backed by the Democratic Socialists of America.

Assemblymember Stefani Zinerman, whose campaign Jeffries was closely involved with, defeated retail worker Eon Huntley 53 to 47 percent, according to preliminary results from the New York City Board of Elections.

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“If they really want to embrace Democratic values, they should stop running against Democrats,” Zinerman said of socialists in an interview Tuesday night. “I hope today they learned their lesson, that real Democrats are not going to stand up to this level of disrespect.”

Huntley’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

The loss pauses DSA’s electoral growth in Central Brooklyn, where candidates aligned with the left-flank organization have struggled to gain ground since pickups in 2018 and 2020, when the progressive movement was ascendant.

And it capped a tough night for the city’s socialists overall — despite some bright spots.

Zinerman’s narrow victory came after roughly half a million dollars boosting her from super PACs backed by real estate interests and charter school boosters, including former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Zinerman downplayed the money.

“It doesn’t matter how much money you have, it’s the message that you get to the people,” she said. “Community empowerment. That’s the message that resonated.”

Zinerman was backed by state Attorney General Tish James, another Brooklyn power player, and massive health care workers union 1199 SEIU.

But her win is a particular point of pride for Jeffries, who got deeply involved with the race. The Brooklyn Democrat has repeatedly pushed back on socialist candidates as he rises through the ranks in Washington. A united Democratic front is especially important to him this year, as he positions himself to become the next House speaker if his party retakes power in November.

DSA picked up another Assembly seat: Columbia University staffer and union organizer Claire Valdez comfortably defeated incumbent Juan Ardila, who became a political pariah after he was accused of sexual misconduct at a 2015 party. A third candidate, attorney Johanna Carmona, picked up most of the mainstream Democratic support in his place, with the backing of the Queens Democratic Party and major labor unions.

DSA Assemblymembers Emily Gallagher, in Brooklyn, and Sarahana Shrestha, in the Hudson Valley, each staved off challengers by wide margins, as did Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), as expected.

But a DSA-endorsed candidate Jonathan Soto lost big to Assemblymember Michael Benedetto in the East Bronx, 62 to 38, according to preliminary results.

And in the highest-profile race of the night, Rep. Jamaal Bowman fell to Westchester County Executive George Latimer. DSA endorsed Bowman with just weeks to go in the primary, hoping to give him a boost when his fate already seemed sealed.

Like in that race, Huntley’s campaign focused heavily on pro-Palestinian advocacy and calls for a cease-fire in the war in Gaza.

“As a person running for office, I think it’s incumbent to really speak to what the community also believes, but also to stand and to speak to what I also believe morally, and to know as true,” Huntley said in an interview on Tuesday. “I can’t let this moment pass with the platform I have, and not speak out against genocide.”

That outspoken criticism of Israel led to a flood of donations to Zinerman, who largely shied from mentioning the war. Solidarity PAC, a new pro-Israel group, said it drove more than $80,000 to Zinerman’s campaign, making up more than half her contributions.

Zinerman also benefited from already being in office, in a good year for incumbents.

Jeffries’ close political ally Rep. Greg Meeks (D-N.Y.) secured some major wins Tuesday as well, in his role as Queens Democratic Party leader. His pick for Surrogate’s Court judge, Cassandra Johnson, defeated Wendy Li, maintaining the party’s hold on a position that provides patronage spots for favored law firms.

Meeks also saw his preferred candidate Larinda Hooks win an open Assembly seat over a political foe, former state Sen. Hiram Monserrate. It was Monserrate’s eighth attempt to win a legislative spot after being ousted from the state Senate over a domestic assault conviction and later serving two years in prison on federal fraud charges.

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