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Primary vote brings some close races, surges by progressives

Jamaal Bowman speaks to attendees during his primary-night

Jamaal Bowman speaks to attendees during his primary-night party Tuesday, June. 23, 2020, in New York. Bowman was running against Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., in the primary. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez) Credit: AP/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez

ALBANY — Some close races on Long Island and a few progressive surges in urban congressional races highlighted Tuesday’s primary. But results won’t be known for at least a week because of a massive mail-in vote of more than 795,000 ballots statewide that has yet to be counted.

In the 1st Congressional District Democratic primary, businessman Perry Gershon, with 5,166 votes, had a 164-vote lead over Nancy Goroff, a chemistry professor at Stony Brook University, according to unofficial results on Wednesday from the state Board of Elections. Bridget Fleming, a Suffolk County legislator, had 4,062 votes in the crowded field for the Democratic nomination to take on Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) in November.

In another close race, activist Laura Ahearn had a 240-vote lead over Valerie Cartright, a Brookhaven councilwoman, in the Democratic primary for the State Senate’s 1st District. Ahearn had 2,360 votes to Cartright’s 2,120 votes in a five-way race for the nomination to run for the seat long held by Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). The Republican nominee is Assemb. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk).

The votes reported Wednesday are only those cast Tuesday at the polls and from early voting from July 13 to Sunday. The bulk of votes were mailed in as absentee ballots and they won’t be tabulated until July 1. The historically large number of absentee votes are the result of precautions taken against spread of COVID-19.

On Long Island, Suffolk County voters have mailed in 48,916 ballots so far and 80,845 Nassau County voters have mailed in ballots, according to the state Board of Elections. Ballots can be postmarked as late as Tuesday.

The high number of absentee ballots means even leads that appear comfortable Tuesday night could be changed by mail-in votes once they are counted.

“I’m trying to make sense of this and lot of it has to do with how many days we have to wait until this is final,” said Craig Burnett, a political-science professor at Hofstra University. “What does it all mean? You have to wait until it's all counted.”

In a race watched nationwide, Rep. Eliot Engel, a Democrat who has held his 16th Congressional District seat since 2013, was trailing progressive challenger Jamaal Bowman, a middle school principal. The district covers parts of the Bronx and Westchester. Bowman had 27,372 votes or 11,802 more votes than Engel, who is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Meena Bose, a political-science professor at Hofstra University, called it a “stunning result.”

“In 2018, Engel won the Democratic primary with almost three-quarters of the vote, and he was unopposed in the general election,” Bose said. “Losing to a first-time candidate with a progressive reform agenda indicates a major shift in public opinion that may be consequential for other primary races as well as the general election. With the high increase in mail-in ballots this year, a few days or more may be needed for definitive election results.”

Additionally, progressive surges included the overwhelming lead of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the 14th Congressional District, which includes parts of the Bronx and Queens. Ocasio-Cortez, a national progressive leader, received 27,460 votes, or 69% of those cast, against her closest rival in the four-way race, CNBC commentator Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, who had 7,393 votes.

“Tonight we are proving that the people’s movement in NY isn’t an accident,” said Ocasio-Cortez when the polls closed. “It’s a mandate.”

Progressives also pointed to the expected win by Mondaire Jones, a former federal prosecutor, in the race to succeed longtime Rep. Nina Lowey in the 17th Congressional District in the lower Hudson Valley. Jones had 13,625 votes compared with Adam Schliefer, a former federal prosecutor, who had 6,253 votes. Jones leads the eight-candidate field.

“Representation matters and it looks likely that, for the very first time, we will have a Black LGBTQ person in the halls of Congress,” said Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign organization.

The progressive crests, however, were limited mostly to urban, heavily Democratic areas.

“I’m always sort of reluctant to call things waves,” Burnett said. “It may look like a wave, but it’s hard to see if that is what it is because it’s a primary, and a primary during a pandemic … does this mean it’s the case on Long Island or upstate? I don’t think so.”

In another close race, veteran Rep. Carolyn Maloney led Suraj Patel by 648 votes in the Democratic primary in the 12th Congressional District on Manhattan’s East Side. Patel is a business ethics professor and progressive candidate who had worked for President Barack Obama. Maloney had 16,473 votes, or 40% of the votes counted, to Patel’s 15,825 votes.

“This is what it’s going to look in November,” said Burnett of Hofstra. “It’s going to be a mess and we probably won’t know who is president for some time.”

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