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The Red and the Blue

By Cathryn Swan

New York Megaphone

In the New York Democratic Primary, September 13th, six of the eight State Senators of the dreaded Independent Democratic Conference were swept out of office. In a series of shocking upsets, voters ousted many of the IDC Senators who blocked progressive reforms by caucusing with Senate Republicans . This news is breathing new life into the possibility of change happening via the electoral system. The victors are activists, and community organizers, not ruled by corporate donors. They take chances by staying true to their principles.

In New York’s 18th Senate District in North Brooklyn, Julia Salazar, a 27 year old socialist with a background in tenant organizing, defeated incumbent Martin Dilan. Salazar beat the 17 year incumbent by seventeen points in the primary. Dilan was not a member of the IDC, but he had deep real estate connections. Gothamist reported earlier that, “Since 1999, Dilan has accepted $325,400 from real estate entities.”

There’s a wave going on, it’s blue and it’s red. It started just three months ago, when Bronx native Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (aka “AOC”) caused a major upset in the Democratic machine. This Democratic socialist former bartender toppled the long-standing reign of Congressman Joseph Crowley. The media has been desperately trying to catch up with how AOC did it ever since. Since her win, Ocasio-Cortez has championed other females and candidates who she considers kindred spirits. AOC has also enjoyed the media spotlight, as she charms late night talk shows, calls for universal healthcare, free college/trade school educations, and campaigns with Senator Bernie Sanders.

Julia Salazar, and AOC, are members of Democratic Socialists of America. The DSA helped promote Salazar’s campaign, and recently saw its membership surge past 50,000 members. Dan Quayle (no, not the former Vice President) is a DSA organizer, and he told the Megaphone, “These candidates ran on an unapologetically socialist platform that put working people first. They proved, yet again, that organized people can beat organized money. More Democrats should take note.”

IDC member Tony Avella, a former New York City Council member and eight year state senator representing the Senate District 11 of north-east Queens, was defeated in the recent primary by John Liu, former New York City Comptroller. In his previous incarnation, Liu had voiced strong opinions against Mayor Michael Bloomberg for changing election laws and seizing a third term. Liu’s political comeback comes after a failed challenge to Avella in 2014 and a run for the Democratic nomination for Mayor in 2013.

When the IDC disbanded as a group in April, perhaps it saw the writing on the wall. The most high-profile casualty of these recent primaries was Senator Jeffrey Klein of the Bronx, the former leader of the I.D.C., who also lost his race. His challenger, Alessandra Biaggi, is a former Hillary Clinton staffer who also won with a grassroots campaign. She canvassed door to door and refused corporate donations. She worked for Hillary, but she campaigned like Bernie.

Ms. Biaggi told The New York Times, “If this doesn’t prove that political currency is people over money, I do not know what does... We have now cut the head of the I.D.C. snake.”

Ocasio-Cortez’s win against Crowley in June sounded a bell. It continues to ring. Other wins included Jessica Ramos against Senator Jose Peralta, Zellnor Myrie over Senator Jesse Hamilton and former NY City Council Member Robert Jackson triumphing over Senator Marisol Alcantara.

Of course, the race that got the most attention was progressive actor Cynthia Nixon taking on Governor Andrew Cuomo. But progressive Democratic District Leader Arthur Schwartz tells the Megaphone, “The Nixon-Cuomo race was the most unimportant race on September 13, even though it got the most attention. Statewide the two most meaningful candidates were Tish James [who was elected Attorney General] and Jumaane Williams” Wiliams is the spirited, progressive City Council candidate who just ran for Lt. Governor.”

“Zephyr Teachout got 34% in 2014. Bernie got 45% in 2016, with little Black or Hispanic support. Jumaane got 47% on a shoestring campaign, where he was outspent 10-1. The white progressive movement has to learn this lesson and figure out how to win enough white voters over to a progressive coalition led by candidates of color. That is the road to a progressive NY.”

Back in April 2016, nearly 30,000 people fervently packed Washington Square Park to hear Bernie Sanders speak. Their hopes were crushed when the Democratic National Committee  squashed Sanders, with shady maneuvers that pre-ordained that Hillary Clinton as the nominee prior to the convention. But progressives had their revenge on September 13. The people who felt so hopeful found new candidates in which to place their hope.

Image: David Shankbone -
Own work, CC BY 3.0,