Primary School 6/2
we hear you. we see you. we are busting your union
One week until the Virginia and New Jersey primaries! And somehow it’s a pretty quiet week (aside from New York, which needs to go sit in a corner and think about what it’s done.)
In 2020, Danny Davis faced a crowded field of challengers, including socialist schoolteacher Anthony Clark, progressive gun violence prevention advocate Kina Collins, and moderate attorney Kristine Schanbacher. Davis won easily, but his opposition was badly split—Collins came in second with 13.9%, Clark in third with 12.98%, and Schanbacher in last place with 12.96%—and only Schanbacher had sufficient financial resources to run her campaign (Collins actually had the least money of the four Democrats); furthermore, all three candidates had to run their campaigns without much backup from local and national organizations. If one candidate could consolidate the existing anti-Davis vote, and scrape together the resources to run a tough campaign, Davis’s 60.2% in 2020 is far from intimidating. And we have good news on that front: Kina Collins is back, this time with the Day 1 support of Justice Democrats.
Davis, despite being a former member of the Democratic Socialists of America, is no longer recognizably progressive. After the Congressional Progressive Caucus implemented tighter membership standards, he quietly vanished from their website’s member roster, presumably to devote himself full-time to his most notable hobby: being cozy with right-wing fringe religious sects.
Way back in 2018, facing a challenge from Clark, Davis took a lot of heat from his constituents for praising Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan; after Farrakhan gave a speech denouncing, among other things, “the Satanic Jew,” Davis dismissed concerns over his friend’s intense antisemitism, telling the right-wing rag the Daily Caller that “the world is so much bigger than Farrakhan and the Jewish question.” Only after the outrage failed to subside overnight did Davis backtrack, saying he “100% disagree[d] with what Mr. Farrakhan stated.” That incident is pretty much disqualifying in and of itself, but it wasn’t even the only time. Davis was pretty close with the late Sun Myung Moon, who led the Christian-adjacent Unification Church, a cult-like religious sect which proclaimed Moon to be the Messiah and wedged itself within the American conservative movement using Moon’s various business ventures (including the Washington Times, a paper best described as nothing more than a right-wing rag.) In one particularly bizarre incident, Davis, wearing white gloves, presented Moon’s wife with an ornate crown on a pillow in a ceremony in a congressional office building. (At that ceremony, Moon, as usual, proclaimed himself to be the Messiah.)
In short, he’s bad, and he will not be missed should Collins unseat him. Collins herself is pretty cool: the 30-year-old has been involved in activism and advocacy efforts against police violence, gun violence, and gender discrimination; she also served as the first chair of the Illinois Council on Women and Girls, after advocating for the bill which created the council. This district is quite likely to exist in some form approximating the current one after redistricting; past Voting Rights Act jurisprudence mandating the drawing of majority-minority districts strongly encourages, if not requires, this district to exist, even if Illinois Democrats really get creative with their partisan gerrymandering.
Former Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler, the distant runner-up in the 2014 gubernatorial primary, is making a second run for governor. Considering his first campaign started with frontrunner status and ended with him getting thrashed by the lethargic campaigner, then-Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who would go on to somehow lose to a Republican in November, we’re not expecting all that much. But hey, losing is less of an impediment than you’d think in Maryland politics: MD-07 Rep. Kweisi Mfume started his second congressional stint in 2020 after a 13-year hiatus following a loss in the 2006 Senate primary, MD-06 Rep. David Trone won an open seat in 2018 after losing neighboring MD-08 in 2016, and even Brown promptly turned around and won the open MD-04 in 2016, right after he pulled off the 2014 cycle’s most embarrassing snatching of defeat from the jaws of victory. So maybe he’ll surprise us and win the nomination somehow. Already in the race are former Obama Education Secretary John B. King, state Comptroller Peter Franchot, and former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker. None of the candidates are particularly progressive.
With Pride Month beginning today, the last thing a Democratic campaign wants is a botched performance at an LGBT forum. That is exactly what Shontel Brown did last week—during a panel held by the Cleveland Stonewall Democrats, Shontel Brown clumsily attempted to use a story about a trans friend to demonstrate her own LGBTQ bona fides by proxy. Bit of a problem, though: she repeatedly referred to the deceased friend, a trans woman, as a man, and said that “he” (her, to be clear) “was living his life as a transgender woman”. Gross and unacceptable.
Once again, Nina Turner landed some important endorsements. This week, it was state Sen. Nickie Antonio, the only Cuyahoga County Democratic state senator who had not yet endorsed Turner, as well as the Ohio State Council of Machinists. Her campaign also released a poll indicating that this really isn’t much of a race: surveying a sample of 600 likely Democratic voters from May 20 to 26, Tulchin Research found Turner leading Brown 50% to 15%.
It wasn’t all bad news for Brown this week; today, she announced the endorsement of the Cleveland Teachers’ Union. Maybe this isn’t too much of a surprise; as a state senator, before becoming a highly visible face of the Sanders campaigns, Nina Turner was an ally of charter schools, and she clashed with CTU repeatedly during a 2012 fight over education reform legislation. (She has since distanced herself from the charter school lobby.) Still, Brown needs just about any good news she can get right now, and the Cleveland Teachers’ Union is a big get.
The Killer Ds are back and better than ever. Texas Republicans, intent on ramming through the nation’s most extreme voter suppression bill, SB7, made the mistake of scheduling it towards the end of a legislative session. Democratic state reps realized what they had to do, and left the building to prevent a quorum, shutting down the Senate until the legislative session’s time ran out. Three Democrats from safe seats, however, chose to stay behind, effectively a vote for the bill since the only way to stop the bill was to deny a quorum. The first is Harold Dutton, of Houston. Dutton, who has been in the House for 36 years, had an unexpectedly close primary in 2018, and in 2020 was forced into a runoff which he barely won. Just last month he took up the cause of anti-trans legislation, solely to spite members of his party who didn’t support another bill of his. Dutton does not yet have a challenger for 2022, but he seems committed to losing to whoever they are. The other two were Bobby Guerra of McAllen and Richard Peña Raymond of Laredo. While neither are as obviously endangered as Dutton, Guerra only won his 2020 primary 59-41, and Raymond is part of the Laredo old guard that took a major beating in 2020. (The most famous member of that old guard, Rep. Henry Cuellar, held on by a thin margin, but his sister Rosie, then the Webb County tax collector, lost renomination in an unusually competitive primary season in Laredo.)
Virginia’s final pre-primary campaign finance reports were due at the end of the day yesterday, but campaigns love to file them late; we’ll talk about those in our preview of those races, because a couple of campaigns in contested primaries have yet to file. But we have one number we just have to highlight: Nadarius Clark, challenging Del. Steve Heretick in a Hampton Roads district, reported raising $500,000 in the second quarter of 2021. That’s what his campaign told the Washington Post, buried in a story about the sudden glut of state legislative primary challengers in Virginia.
NYC Endorsement Highlights
Maya Wiley: Our Revolution
CM Brad Lander: Our Revolution
Queens Assemb. David Weprin: NYC Police Benevolent Association
Tali Farhadian Weinstein: the New York Daily News editorial board
Liz Crotty: NYC Police Benevolent Association
Alvin Bragg: the New York Times editorial board
Tahanie Aboushi: Our Revolution
CM Mark Levine: Hotel Trades Council
CM Antonio Reynoso: Our Revolution
India Walton’s underdog campaign has hit $100,000 raised, which is not particularly great, and in fact is a fraction of the multiple hundreds of thousands incumbent Byron Brown has raised, but it is a significant uptick for her, including at least $16,000 in the last week or so. It’s enough to fund an ad effort if she so chooses, provided she can keep this pace up in the next month.
Dianne Morales’s campaign seems to have totally collapsed. Nebulous allegations ranging from Islamophobic staff, to negligent and unsafe landlording, to underpayment, to a hostile climate for Black and brown staffers (possibly including other staff protecting the alleged Islamophobic staff from consequences?), to union-busting, have been flying for the past week; while it’s not entirely clear what is going on in Morales HQ (besides union-busting, which seems to pretty clearly be occurring), it’s clear that her staff is in open revolt. Generally speaking, when your own staff are picketing outside your campaign office, it’s probably time to pack it up.
This came right as Morales’s campaign was hitting its stride; it’s safe to say that the vacuum in the left lane of this race first created by the partial implosion of Scott Stringer is no longer being filled by Morales, leaving Maya Wiley as the last progressive standing. Wiley is capitalizing on that; she snagged the endorsement of Our Revolution in the midst of Morales’s implosion, and the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club (a prominent LGBT Democratic club) switched its endorsement from Morales to Wiley, promising to back it up with more than 32,000 pieces of mail in the closing weeks of the campaign. Wiley will have to withstand a blistering Daily News report examining her tenure in the de Blasio administration as counsel and Civilian Complaint Review Board chair; according to the report, Wiley routinely approved the NYPD’s position on civilian complaints, and backed up the de Blasio administration when it sought to hide police disciplinary records. But Wiley’s lackluster CCRB tenure was already kinda baked in; it’s at least one reason why so many left-leaning organizations are only backing Wiley now, after Stringer and Morales collapsed. The report might be unpleasant for Wiley’s campaign, but this is still one of the best weeks Wiley has had during the entire campaign.
At least one other candidate reveled in the sudden implosion of an opponent, too: former NYC Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, a moderate who has surged in recent weeks as many moderates realized that the two other leading moderate candidates are unusually bad, dug up and tweeted out a news story from early April announcing the endorsement of Teamsters Local 831, which represents city sanitation workers. Her caption? “Proud to be endorsed by every labor union I’ve managed, representing more than 10,000 essential workers who keep this city running.” (Emphasis ours.) Ouch.
The one race where reform-oriented and decarceral organizations needed to agree on a single candidate. The one race where there’s no ranked-choice voting, and thus no room for error. And the one race where the left is more hopelessly split than anywhere else on the ballot. The New York Times editorial board is normally sorta centrist, but tends to lean towards criminal justice reform; for a particularly good example of this tendency, see their endorsement of DSA-backed upstart public defender Tiffany Cabán over then-Queens BP Melinda Katz in the 2019 Queens DA special primary election. (Cabán lost that race by a heartbreakingly thin margin, possibly decided by absentee ballot shenanigans in court, but is now the overwhelming favorite for a city council seat in Astoria.)
The Times’s endorsement of Alvin Bragg, a former federal prosecutor running on a modestly reform-oriented platform, might be welcome news if Bragg was the leading reform candidate; it’s far from clear that he is. Reality TV contestant and career public defender Eliza Orlins has the grassroots energy and the best platform in the race; civil rights attorney Tahanie Aboushi has the institutional left. Bragg is less ambitious than either, and this muddles the race even more. It’s crucial that one of the reform candidates wins; however, because DA is a state office, not a city one, there is no ranked-choice voting. Manhattan voters who want to lessen mass incarceration don’t have a clear choice to make, but they definitely need to vote for someone to stop the tough-on-crime candidates. At this point, the most clear spoiler is Assemblymember Dan Quart, who neither has a platform that goes as far as Orlins or Aboushi, nor Bragg’s level of obvious viability. He has some money from his Assembly campaigns, and an idle desire for a promotion.
Tali Farhadian Weinstein has a long list of establishment endorsements, this week adding the New York Daily News editorial board (a generally Democratic-leaning but relatively conservative voice in city politics.) According to the New York Times, she interviewed for a judgeship in the Trump administration, which conflicts with her branding as a Democrat and might make some of her endorsers (among them Reps. Ritchie Torres, Nydia Velázquez, and Adriano Espaillat) a bit uncomfortable. She would be a continuation of the Cy Vance era, and somehow that doesn’t make her the worst candidate. No, that would be Liz Crotty, who just landed the endorsement of the Police Benevolent Association. (Thankfully, NYPD officers tend to live in the outer neighborhoods of the other four boroughs, or in suburbs beyond the city limits altogether, and they also tend to be much more Republican than other New Yorkers, so the number of Manhattan Democrats moved by the PBA endorsement should be minimal.)
According to the New York Post (a right-wing but sadly well-sourced paper), Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushed Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie into attempting to silence Queens Assemb. Ron Kim, an early Democratic critic of Cuomo’s nursing home policy during COVID. Heastie went on to be the chief roadblock to Cuomo’s impeachment in Albany; Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins bluntly called for Cuomo’s resignation, and corralled her caucus into largely doing the same. There’s little doubt that had Heastie allowed impeachment to pass the Assembly, Stewart-Cousins would’ve found the votes to remove the governor. With that context, Heastie’s participation in Cuomo’s familiar tactics of intimidation and coverup is less surprising, but no less revolting; a primary in the speaker’s Bronx district, AD-83, would be incredibly welcome.
Campaign mailers can get...creative. Because the press is less likely to see a targeted mailer than, say, a digital ad pestering every Facebook user in a certain zip code, or a TV ad across an entire media market, candidates worry a little less about going into the gutter. And sometimes that produces disastrous results, like this mailer for Queens Borough President candidate Elizabeth Crowley (cousin of Joe) fashioned to look like an eviction notice. Dear readers, if you are ever a candidate or a campaign staffer and something like this is suggested to you, don’t do it. Just don’t.