Brian Cunningham won the special election for Assembly District 43 in central Brooklyn on Tuesday night, earning a victory for the Brooklyn Democratic Party against a group of progressive reformers who have harshly criticized the leadership of party leader Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn.
Cunningham led Jelanie DeShong, the Working Families Party candidate, 62% to 35%, with about 3,000 votes counted on election night. The candidate of the Republican Party and the Conservative Party, Mesidor Azor, obtained only 3%. The result will hold according to a spokesperson for the New York City Board of Elections, because while 1,141 mail-in ballots were mailed, only 168 were returned Monday night.
Turnout in the special election was very low. Just over 3,000 votes were cast in the district of around 130,000 people. That’s less than half of the 8,612 votes that were counted in the 2015 special election when Diana Richardson was elected. But turnout was higher than in other special elections this year for the Assembly. Fair 1,322 votes were counted in the January special election in East Harlem Assembly District 68. And in February, 2,513 people voted in Assembly District 72 in Upper Manhattan, while 2,990 voted in Assembly District 60 in East New York.
During an election night with City & State, Cunningham attributed his victory to his “commitment to the community”, after having contested unsuccessfully New York City Council member Mathieu Eugene ran for re-election in 2017. “The voters know me. Voters trust me to go to Albany on day one to deliver what’s important to them. What is important? “Housing is essential. Criminal justice is key,” Cunningham said. “And making sure public safety and education are at the center of everything we do.”
Cunningham, the director of operations for the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, declined to give a clear answer on whether the state legislature should make changes to the bail reform law. of 2019, saying he was busy with the campaign and hadn’t “looked at all the positions yet”, but said he didn’t think the issue should be related to the state budget, which must be submitted on April 1.
Cunningham is likely to take office in early April and complete his term until the end of the year. He will immediately have to run for re-election, like DeShong and other candidates, including the progressive activist Tim Hunterare expected to run in the Democratic primary in June.
The Assembly headquarters was opened after Richardson resigned to become Vice President of the Borough of Brooklyn. She quickly lent her support to DeShong, a political operative who served as Governor Kathy Hochul’s assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs. Other progressive allies also backed DeShong, including Rep. Yvette Clarke, State Senator Zellnor Myrie, Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso, and the PAM, which gave DeShong its party line for the special election. Richardson and Reynoso in particular criticized Bichotte Hermelyn’s leadership as regressive and called on her to resign.
But Cunningham had his own high-profile supporters, which turned the race into something of a proxy war between central Brooklyn political players. The county committee, led by Bichotte Hermelyn and the Brooklyn Democratic Party, voted overwhelmingly to give him the democrat party line. That’s a huge advantage in the majority Democratic district, and more than offset DeShong’s slight edge in fundraising. Endorsements followed from New York City Mayor Eric Adams, State Senator Kevin Parker and former City Councilman Robert Cornegy Jr.
However, the race was not as straightforward as an underdog against an insider. DeShong was a top aide to Hochul, the most powerful — and common — Democrat in the state. Not so long ago, Cunningham took on the establishment by running against Eugene in 2017. And Cunningham also had major support from City Councilwoman Rita Joseph, a progressive who defeated Bichotte candidate Hermelyn . Joshua Peter in his primary last year.
When asked if he would be answerable to the county party, Cunningham said no. “I am accountable to the people who sent me to Albany, which is the voters.”