Jul 28, 2022 - Politics & Policy

New York's hottest club

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

New York's hottest club has it all: a former congresswoman who served during the Nixon administration, an incumbent who is actually from another region of the state, and roughly a dozen other Democratic candidates no less colorful.

Why it matters: The newly drawn 10th Congressional District, which covers parts of lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, has attracted a crowded primary field that encapsulates the generational, racial and ideological divisions of the modern Democratic Party.

The big picture: It wasn’t supposed to be this way — the plan was for House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler to keep representing the district, as he had since 1993. But a court-appointed mapmaker with an eye for compactness had other plans, and a new open district was born.

  • That means most voters in the district are getting a rare chance to elect their first new representative in decades.

Be smart: Voters, operatives and community leaders who spoke to Axios all agreed that the race remains wide open in the final stretch before the Aug. 23 contest.

  • "Absolutely nobody knows who is going to win," said Allen Roskoff, the president of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club.

Zoom in: The district looks a lot like the Democratic base — there are sizable Puerto Rican, Mexican, Black, Orthodox Jewish, Dominican and Asian communities, in addition to neighborhoods of predominantly white and highly educated voters.

  • "This is a district that is both homogenized and completely Balkanized," said New York-based Democratic consultant Eric Koch, "in a way that only New York City can truly do."

The front-runners:

  • Dan Goldman, who served as the lead counsel for Democrats in the first Trump impeachment trial and has emphasized the need to address "existential threats" to democracy in the wake of Jan. 6.
  • Elizabeth Holtzman, who was in Congress from 1973 to 1981 before serving as district attorney in Brooklyn and later as New York City comptroller.
  • Mondaire Jones, a Squad-adjacent progressive who currently represents the city's northern suburbs and made history in 2020 as one of the two first Black, openly gay members of Congress.
  • Yuh-Line Niou, a state assemblywoman from Manhattan who has the backing of powerful progressive groups and politicians and would be the first openly autistic member of Congress.
  • Carlina Rivera, a city councilwoman from the Lower East Side who has racked up support from powerful local unions, party clubs and politicians.
  • Jo Anne Simon, a city councilwoman from Brooklyn who represents some of the most politically active neighborhoods in the district.

Between the lines: The deep-blue primary has produced a heated effort by candidates to outflank the field to the left, with Niou in particular — a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel — setting the pace.

  • "I am somebody who definitely looks at all our policies ... through an economic justice lens, through a social justice lens, racial justice lens, disability lens, environmental justice lens," Niou told Axios.
  • Even Goldman, who drew fire from the other camps for signaling support for some restrictions on abortion, told Axios, "I wouldn't call myself a moderate. I share many of the progressive ideals that many of my opponents do."
  • Jones, the only candidate in the race with more funds than Goldman, casts himself as the lawyer's progressive foil, saying his opponents "don't have the resources to go against a self-funding multimillionaire ... who is a moderate-to-conservative Democrat."

Flashback: If Goldman stands on one side of the race's ideological divide, then the 80-year-old Holtzman — who would become the oldest non-incumbent member of Congress in history — embodies its generational divide.

  • Unlike other candidates, she isn't so quick to grab the progressive label — and dismissed progressive angst toward President Biden’s congeniality with his GOP foes.
  • "Confrontation may be emotionally satisfying, but you have to look at the broader objective here, which is to get results," Holtzman told Axios.

What we're watching: This week, the major candidates all flocked to an office outside the district: the New York Times building.

  • The editorial board's endorsement can be pivotal in such a crowded race; Jones secured it before his win in 2020, as did Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.).
  • The college-educated voters expected to turn out in droves "will be following, 'Who has the Times endorsed?'" said Democratic strategist Chris Coffey. "I think there's no single endorsement in the race that matters more than the Times."
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