It was a good summer for PSC-backed state senators.
Due to complicated redistricting plans, several state senators who have been vital to advancing the PSC’s agenda in Albany faced tough primaries in August. But thanks partly to tireless PSC member-led advocacy, they won their party contests and are the presumptive general election victors in November.
NEW DISTRICT MAP
State Senator Andrew Gounardes, who represents Southern Brooklyn, faced a tough primary race against David Yassky, a former New York City Council member. Gounardes, has been a strong advocate for CUNY, is a Hunter College graduate and a senate sponsor of the PSC-backed New Deal for CUNY. For Reem Jaafar, a professor of mathematics at LaGuardia Community College and a resident of Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge, Gounardes’ reelection campaign was of personal importance.
In 2018, Jaafar recalled, residents like her helped propel Gounardes to victory against the last Republican incumbent state senator representing Brooklyn, helping to shift the state senate’s power to the Democrats after years of Republican control and partisan gridlock.
“When he got redistricted, we got scared because it only contains 20% of the old district. Andrew’s district is really a new district when you really think about it,” Jaafar said, noting that the new district includes much of the Brooklyn waterfront. “I was extremely worried because Yassky had the brand name in Brooklyn Heights and in a lot of the new parts of the new district. We were worried that all that work over the past four years would be gone.”
But Jaafar and other PSC members pounded the pavement and phone-banked for Gounardes, who overwhelmingly defeated Yassky. “[Andrew] was very productive and stood true to his values, even though he wasn’t from a liberal district,” said Jaafar.
PSC activists also campaigned for State Senator Gustavo Rivera, a progressive lawmaker who represents parts of the Bronx and coauthor of the New York Health Act, which aims to enact a single-payer healthcare plan in New York State. Rivera was under threat by a Democratic Party establishment challenger, Miguelina Camilo, in a redrawn district. Rivera won his primary, thanks in part to union support. State Senator Robert Jackson, who represents the west side of Manhattan, also faced a primary challenger who he was able to defeat with the help of PSC volunteers. Jackson worked closely with the PSC in the final days of the 2022 state budget negotiations to ensure robust funding for public higher education. And over the last several years, he has been a pivotal leader in the fight for an overdue infusion of funds for New York City public schools.
PSC members also phone-banked for State Senator Jabari Brisport, who represents parts of Brooklyn and is a vocal supporter of the New Deal for CUNY. Brisport faced Conrad Tillard, who has a history of antisemitic and homophobic views and was backed by Mayor Eric Adams. Cordell Cleare, who represents northern parts of Manhattan and serves as the chair of the senate’s Women’s Issues Committee, also won with PSC support.
Susan Kang, an associate professor of political science at John Jay College and a member of the PSC Executive Council, noted that in the primaries of PSC-backed incumbents Jackson and Rivera, they faced challengers who had the support of US Congressman Adriano Espaillat. Kang saw these challengers as a reincarnation of the state senate’s Independent Democratic Conference, a group of conservative Democrats who caucused with Republicans, thus allowing the Republicans to maintain control of the state senate. Many of those IDC senators were defeated in the 2018 primaries by progressives. One of those victors was Senator Robert Jackson. The Espaillat-backed challengers to Jackson and Rivera, Kang said, were “trying to replace progressives in the state senate with people aligned with [Espaillat’s] pro-real estate machine,” a plan that “didn’t work.”
A PROGRESSIVE AGENDA
The PSC hopes that more progressive lawmakers in Albany will make it easier in next year’s state budget negotiations to push for more robust investment for public institutions, including CUNY, and advocate for measures to protect reproductive rights and LGBTQ equality in the state, things that are under attack nationally by the cultural right. In the state assembly primaries, the PSC successfully convinced the New York State AFL-CIO to endorse Ron Kim, a Queens assembly member who was one of the first lawmakers to publicly confront former Governor Andrew Cuomo’s nursing home scandal.
Kang added that the incumbents faced “well-funded challenges from moderate Democrats,” but “electoral results show that New Yorkers find these senators to actually support the issues that remain important to New Yorkers, including funding for CUNY.”
Luke Elliott-Negri, the PSC legislative representative and a member of the PSC Executive Council, added, “When legislators fight for CUNY, we fight for them.”
Published: September 27, 2022 | Last Modified: November 9, 2022