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The 2019 Election Was A Snoozer That Will Change NYC’s Political Future


While Tuesday’s general election lacked any major citywide races, the results will have ripple effects for years to come. From the newly emboldened incumbent, re-elected Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who used his victory speech to send a message about the kind of check he plans to be on the lame-deck de Blasio administration, to a complete shift in how local elections will run beginning in 2021, here’s a rundown of what these results mean for future campaigns and elections in New York City.

Ready for Ranked Choice Voting?

Because it’s coming to New York City for primaries and special elections as of January 2021. That means the next races for mayor, comptroller, public advocate and city council will all be conducted using this new system that will allow voters to rank up to five candidates. For candidates and the consultants that they hire to help them win races, this means the playbook for running for office is dramatically changing.

“It’s going to require completely different strategies and tactics and how people approach things like field [operations], data analytics, paid ads, really everything under the sun is going to have to be looked at,” said Eric Koch, a Democratic strategist with Precision Strategies and the former press secretary for then City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. He said campaigns will be studying places with ranked choice voting, such as San Francisco, to see how they run effective races.

The city BOE has begrudgingly said that, if required by law, they will make ranked choice voting work. At a press conference Wednesday, Mike Ryan, the BOE executive director, said it could take them as long as two weeks to calculate preliminary results with the change.

“All of those results that everybody was so happy to basically pop the balloons at a quarter to 10 last night, that’s not gonna be the case for some of the contests,” said Ryan.

But Douglas Kellner, the co-chair of the state’s Board of Elections disagreed. Kellner said ranked choice voting may be slightly more work for election officials but other jurisdictions that have implemented it still have preliminary election results on election night, except in very tight races.

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams Punches Up

For nearly a year, Jumaane Williams has been running for Public Advocate. His commanding victory with 77 percent of the vote means he now has a mandate to define the office and his role in it. In his victory speech, Williams pledged to make sure by the end of his tenure, “no one ever again questions what the public advocate is [or] whether we need that office.”

Thanks to the passage of one of the charter revision changes on Tuesday’s ballot, his office now has a guaranteed minimum budget pegged to the 2020 fiscal year, which sets the budget at $4.5 million.

Over the past week, Williams has been openly critical of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to appoint Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea to succeed outgoing Police Commissioner James O’Neill.

“This mayor who came in talking about diversity has now skipped over the top-ranking black and brown people who work in the NYPD for another white male,” Williams said Wednesday on The Brian Lehrer Show. He went on to describe it as a “frustration and an insult to certain communities.”

Williams will hold this seat through 2021 and could run for re-election as an incumbent in a year dominated by open races for mayor, comptroller, and dozens of seats in the City Council. Or, perhaps he’ll aim higher.

Queens Special Election

With Melinda Katz taking the mantle of Queens District Attorney in January, there will be a vacancy for Queens Borough President. A crowded field of candidates is already lining up to vie for the seat. Councilmembers Costa Constantinides, Donovan Richards, Jimmy Van Bramer and Assemblymember Alicia Hyndman are among the announced candidates with several others likely to get in the race.

As part of the newly passed charter revisions, that special election will take place 80 days from when the vacancy occurs. That means a boroughwide special election period in March, including nine days of early voting.

Early Voting Take 2, 3, 4 and 5!

It’s a good thing the New York City Board of Elections (BOE) was able to test their early voting system this year. Because come 2020, they will be doing it over and over again, in that Queens special election, April presidential primary, June federal and state primaries and October / November general election.

Elections officials declared the first early voting period a success, citing the more upbeat tone among voters during the first cycle of early voting. The finally tally of early voters was 60,110, just 1.14 percent of registered voters in NYC.

“Everybody was very laid back, very relaxed, they did it on their own time. They were not rushing and it did alleviate a lot of the pressure on Election Day,” said Dawn Sandow, the city BOE deputy executive director.

There will be continued scrutiny on how the city BOE executes early voting in future elections, specifically, which locations are selected for early voting sites (schools or no schools) and how many sites are designated. The de Blasio administration lobbied the BOE to set up more sites across the city. A recent analysis from the good government group NYPIRG found wide disparities between the number of early voting sites selected for each borough versus the number of voters assigned to those sites.

Take Staten Island and Manhattan: both boroughs had nine early voting sites, but based on the active voting population, that means roughly 32,000 voters per site in Staten Island versus more than 110,000 voters per site in Manhattan.

While turnout was around 15 percent for this election, in the last presidential election, it was more than 55 percent. That increase in turnout could spell longer lines for voters assigned to locations with a higher ratio of voters per poll site. That also prompts the question of whether the city BOE is treating voters fairly across all five boroughs. While BOE commissioners said it was not practical to allow people to vote at any site across the city for this election, next year is another story.

With reporting from Gwynne Hogan

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