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Katz's Win Means a Special Election in Early 2020

Photo courtesy Flickr


With rival Tiffany Cabán officially conceding yesterday, Melinda Katz is now on track to become Queens’ next District Attorney. That means that she will have to vacate the borough president and that will trigger a special election in early 2020, presuming Katz resigns her current position at the beginning of the new year.


The exact date for the special election cannot be known for certain because one of the five referenda on this November’s ballot would change the time frame for a special election. Under current law, a special election has to occur within forty-five days of a vacancy. That would place the borough president election sometime in early February, either the 4th or the 11th. The proposed change would allow more time to campaign, with a special election required to take place eighty days after a politician vacates an office. That moves a potential special election back to March, either the 17th or the 24th in all probability.


Even before primary day, several Queens politicians were lining up to run to replace Katz in the office.


Five current or former city council members and one state assembly member have either already filed to run or are considering entering the race, including Jimmy Van Brammer, Costa Constantinides, Donovan Richards, Elizabeth Crowley, Paul Vallone, and Ron Kim. Term limits prevent each of the four current council members (Van Brammer, Constantinides, Richards, and Vallone) from seeking reelection in 2021.


Jimmy Van Brammer, a council member for the 26th district (Astoria, Long Island City, Sunnyside, Woodside), was the first candidate to formally announce he was seeking the office. Van Brammer has served as the chairman of the council’s cultural affairs committee and was an early endorser of Tiffany Cabán’s DA campaign.


Costa Constantinides is a council member representing Astoria, East Elmhurst, and parts of Long Island City and Woodside. He chairs the council’s environment committee and sustainability would likely be a significant part of his potential campaign.


Council member Donovan Richards represents Southeast Queens, a predominantly African-American section of the borough that voted heavily for Katz in the Queens DA primary. Richards, who supported Katz in the primary, is close to the Queens Democratic Party, but also co-chairs the city council’s progressive caucus.


Elizabeth Crowley, a cousin of former congressman and county party chair Joe Crowley, is a former city council member representing Glendale and Middle Village. She was defeated while running for a third term in 2017 by Robert Holden, whom she had defeated in the Democratic primary, but won by 137 votes as the Republican candidate.


Paul Vallone is an incumbent council member who represents Whitestone, Flushing and Bayside, among other areas. His brother and father previously served on the city council. He chairs the economic development committee.


Ron Kim is an assembly member who represents Whitestone, College Point, Flushing and Murray Hill. He ran in this year’s public advocate special election and placed ninth in the crowded field with just under 3% of the citywide vote. Kim, who can be characterized as progressive, has advocated for the rights of nail salon workers and sex workers in the past.


Eric Ulrich, a Republican council member representing Breezy Point and Ozone Park, has not indicated that he is contemplating a run. However, he placed a surprising second in this year’s public advocate special election with 19% of the citywide vote. He won 29% of the vote in Queens, the most of any candidate in the borough. Under the current electoral system in which only plurality is required to win, the right Republican candidate could have a chance the heavily Democratic county (Hillary Clinton carried 75% of the county in the 2016 presidential election).


The upcoming special election could be the first test case for part of a new electoral system and will likely be the next chapter in the ongoing dispute between establishment Democrats and insurgent progressives in the borough. The two latest chapters of this struggle have been the Amazon HQ2 conflict and the DA primary.


As stated earlier, Van Brammer endorsed Cabán in the DA primary, as did Kim. Richards, Crowley, and Vallone supported Katz, while Constantinides did not endorse during the primary. Van Brammer and Kim were against Amazon’s Long Island City deal, while Richards expressed skepticism. Vallone and Crowley expressed support for the deal. These fault lines will likely emerge once more in what could become a crowded campaign.


Borough presidents have very little direct power in city government, but have some indirect powers and generally act as advocates for their boroughs within city government. They appoint community board members and sit on some local boards. The post can also serve as a springboard to Gracie Mansion, most recently for David Dinkins, or another higher office. Two current borough presidents (Eric Adams of Brooklyn and Ruben Diaz Jr. of the Bronx) and a former borough president (Scott Stringer of Manhattan) are presumed  2021 mayoral candidates.


Correction: this article previously stated that charter ballot question one would institute ranked-choice voting in time for the potential special election, but the ballot question states that RCV will not go into effect until 2021.