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Pro-Palestinian Democratic Socialists face defeats down the New York ballot

Like Rep. Jamaal Bowman, they tried to leverage anger at Israel into votes

Running hard against Israel didn’t help Rep. Jamaal Bowman retain his seat in Congress, and it didn’t help most candidates who tried to oust incumbents in the New York State Assembly. Three of four lost in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.

The Democratic Socialists of America, with which all the challengers affiliate, can likely count on only one pick-up in the Assembly after the November general elections. 

Currently, eight Democrats in the State Senate and Assembly are affiliated with the local New York City and Mid-Hudson Valley chapters of the DSA. The group was broadly condemned for celebrating the Hamas attacks on Israel at a demonstration in Times Square on Oct. 7 — the day of the assault.

Here is a breakdown of some of the most closely-watched races where viewpoints on Israel played a central role: 

A Columbia University staffer picks up a seat

The DSA is likely to gain an Assembly seat in the November general election with Claire Valdez, a Columbia University staffer and union organizer, who defeated incumbent Juan Ardila in Queens. Ardila, who was backed by the left-leaning Working Families Party in the heavily Democratic district, has been dogged by accusations of sexual misconduct against two women at a 2015 college party. The allegations were made public months after his election in 2022, prompting immediate calls for his resignation

The Solidarity PAC, a newly formed group aimed at boosting pro-Israel candidates in local races across the state, backed a third candidate in the race, Johanna Carmona. 

Valdez joined pro-Palestinian protests against the war in Gaza, cast a protest vote in the presidential primary against President Joe Biden, and accused Israel of committing “genocide” in the war against Hamas. She said of Carmona’s pro-Israel contributors: “They’re coming after us, not just because we’ve been standing for a ceasefire and for an end to the genocide in Gaza, but because we’re winning.” She won with 58% of the vote. Carmona came in second with 31%.

Two DSA incumbents easily fended off challengers supported by pro-Israel donors. Emily Gallagher of Brooklyn got 75% of the vote against Anathea Simpkins, and Sarahana Shrestha from the Hudson Valley received 66% against Gabi Madden. And Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who represents parts of the Bronx and Queens and has been a tough critic of Israel in Congress, won an fourth term in Congress with 82% of the vote.

A Hakeem Jeffries ally

The DSA failed to unseat two-term Assemblymember Stefani Zinerman in Central Brooklyn. Eon Huntley, a local activist and retail worker, challenged the incumbent over her support for Israel and for refusing to co-sponsor legislation to penalize charities backing Israeli settlements. “Palestine is on the Ballot,” a Huntley campaign mailer read. “Eon Tyrell Huntley is calling for a permanent and immediate ceasefire in Gaza and an end to US aid for Israel’s military war crimes in Palestine.”

The matchup was one of the most hard fought races this cycle, and caught the attention of national and statewide leaders. Zinerman was backed by House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and State Attorney General Tish James. She also received financial support from former Mayor Mike Bloomberg and the Solidarity PAC. 

AOC ally in The Bronx

Michael Benedetto, a long-time assemblymember from The Bronx, easily beat third-time challenger and DSA member Jonathan Soto, a former staffer for Ocasio-Cortez, with 62% of the vote. 

Soto called Benedetto a “pro-war Democrat” for refusing to call for a ceasefire. “I can’t fault Israel for what they’re doing,” Benedetto said. “They’re fighting for their homeland like we did after 9/11.”

Stand Up NY, a PAC founded to defeat extremist and antisemitic candidates, spent more than $100,000 for Zinerman and Benedetto in digital ads and to boost voter turnout. “Last night showed New Yorkers are ready to stand up to extremism and fight for real representation that prioritizes results over rhetoric,” said Zak Malamed, the group’s head and former congressional candidate.

In the Hudson Valley 

Didi Barrett, a six-term incumbent from the Hudson Valley, repelled a DSA-backed primary challenge from Claire Cousin, a nonprofit executive. Barrett won 57% of the vote. Cousin received 42%.

Open seats

The DSA and the left also saw losses in the Democratic primaries for open seats. 

Jordan Wright, the son of former Assemblymember and Manhattan Democratic Party boss Keith Wright, won a four-way contest to succeed retiring Assemblymember Inez Dickens in Central Harlem. Maria Ordonez, the DSA candidate, came in second with 30% of the vote.

On the Upper West Side of New York City, Micah Lasher, a former aide to Gov. Kathy Hochul, won with 53% of the vote in a five-person race to succeed retiring Assemblymember Danny O’Donnell. Progressive groups — the Working Families Party, Sunrise Movement and The Jewish Vote, a political action committee affiliated with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice — backed Eli Northrup, who came in second place.

Lasher, who is Jewish, previously worked for former New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In his victory speech, Lasher boasted that for his interns, the campaign “was a place where you could be both a proud progressive and a proud Zionist.”

“Everyone should look at the results of this election,” he added, “and know that the voters in the highest-turnout Assembly District in the state of New York don’t think you have to choose.” 

During the campaign, Lasher said he “would like to see Hamas out of Gaza and Netanyahu out of the Knesset.” 

Orthodox representation 

Tuesday’s primaries could foretell an increase in Orthodox representation in Albany. There are currently five Orthodox legislators – State Senator Simcha Felder and Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein of Brooklyn, Assemblymen David Weprin and Sam Berger of Queens, and Assemblyman Ari Brown, a Republican from Nassau County. 

Councilman Kalman Yeger, who is term-limited, easily won the Democratic nomination in the race to succeed longtime Brooklyn Assemblymember Helene Weinstein. Yeger will also run on the Republican and Conservative lines in the general election.

Rockland County legislator Aron Wieder, a Democrat and a member of the Belz Hasidic sect, won the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican incumbent John McGowan. Weider benefited from additional Orthodox voters in Ramapo, a consequence of redistricting.

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