Julia Salazar won a stunning victory in her insurgent battle for a New York state Senate seat after a tumultuous campaign focusing on her shifting accounts of her Jewish immigrant background and a raft of other issues.
The 27-year-old leftist activist rode a wave of young, enthusiastic voters in the Bushwick-based district to oust incumbent Martin Dilan, whom she characterized as a puppet of real estate developers. Salazar led with 58.5% of the vote with all of the precincts reporting.
“Tonight’s victory is about New Yorkers coming together and choosing to fight against rising rents and homelessness in our communities,” she told a raucous victory party. “Together, we will build a better New York.”
Salazar ran as an ally of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the progressive insurgent who toppled powerful Queens Rep. Joe Crowley in the summer. She was one of a string of anti-establishment candidates who successfully challenged Democratic Senate incumbents perceived as too moderate or friendly to Republicans.
WE DID IT! the race called for @SalazarSenate18 :rose::rose::rose: pic.twitter.com/IotdhnhJoh— New York City DSA :rose: (@nycDSA) September 14, 2018
Jeff Klein lost a Bronx seat he held for 14 years and several other members of a rump group of Democrats who sided with the GOP also lost. Simcha Felder, who allowed Republicans to keep control of the otherwise evenly split chamber, survived his primary fight against a little-known opponent in a heavily Orthodox Brooklyn district.
Salazar’s campaign became consumed with issues of identity and truthfulness after multiple reports questioned Salazar’s self-proclaimed Sephardic Jewish heritage, immigrant status and working-class roots.
It was also revealed that she was active with Christian groups at Columbia University before becoming aligned with progressive Jewish activism around Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
She also was accused of stealing from the wife of ex-Mets star Keith Hernandez, a family friend. The charges were later dropped and Salazar won a settlement in a defamation suit against Kai Hernandez.
The reports reached a boiling point just days before the primary when the Daily Caller outed Salazar as having accused Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu’s spokesman David Keyes of having sexually assaulted her. The candidate, aware the story was coming, tweeted about her experience with Keyes.
Although the controversies shone a sometimes harsh spotlight on Salazar, it’s unclear whether they hurt her at all in the district. She certainly gained huge name recognition in the fight against Dilan, who is seen as a lackluster figure and barely won his last primary fight.
Like Ocasio-Cortez, Salazar’s anti-establishment message resonated well among black and Latino voters and young well-educated newcomers in the district. With President Trump stirring fury in New York neighborhoods, their fight-back message left moderate incumbents like Dilan struggling to survive.
Her unusual background as a Jew of color who spent some of her childhood shuttling back and forth between the U.S. and her parents’ homeland of Colombia may have been a selling point in the polyglot district.