Queens Special Election: A Wide-Open Race to Succeed Katz
Six candidates made the ballot for March’s special election for Queens Borough President. Council Member Costa Constantinides, former Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, former Executive Assistant District Attorney Jim Quinn, Council Member Donovan Richards, former NYPD officer Anthony Miranda, and resident Dao Yin.
Turnout will likely be low. In the Public Advocate February special election last year, about 99,000 people voted in Queens, with a turnout of about 12%. In June, almost 91,000 voted in District Attorney primary, with a turnout of about 11%. This special election could fall into a similar range of about one-tenth of Queens voters going to the polls.
With no public polling available and the likelihood of a low-turnout election, predicting what will happen or even which candidates are ahead at this point is impossible. That being said, the fundamentals of the race, such as fundraising, endorsements, and recent history, can give an idea of what could happen.
(Crowley has claimed that an internal poll shows her in the lead with the backing of 1-in-5 Queens residents. Internal polls should always be taken with some skepticism due to obvious potential for bias, and this was before City Councilmember Jimmy Van Brammer dropped out in January, so the state of play may be dramatically different now.)
Endorsements & Recent History
Donovan Richards represents part of Southeastern Queens, a predominantly African-American section of the borough that voted heavily for Melinda Katz in last year’s Democratic primary for Queens District Attorney. Katz won 56% of the section to Caban’s 22% in the June 2019 primary. Like Katz, he has the backing of the Queens County Democratic Party and its chairman, Congressman Gregory Meeks.
Elizabeth Crowley, a cousin of former Congressman Joe Crowley, represented the 30th Council District (Glendale, Middle Village, Ridgewood) from 2009 to 2017. She narrowly lost a reelection bid in 2017 to Robert Holden, whom she had defeated in the Democratic primary, by just over a hundred votes in the general election (Holden ran with the backing of the Republican and Conservative parties). She has received the backing of major unions such as Transport Workers Union Local 100 and Local Union No. 3 IBEW, suggesting that the political “establishment” in the borough may be splintering in the race.
Costa Constantinides has raised the most money out of any candidate in the race so far and, after fellow Council Member Jimmy Van Brammer dropped out last month, could be well-positioned to win the votes of the young, left-leaning voters in the gentrifying western portion of the borough. Richards’ affiliation with the county party, Crowley’s last name, and Quinn’s conservative supporters leave Constantinides, who had made the environment a signature issue, as possibly the sole beneficiary of this constituency.
Last week, State Senator Jessica Ramos, who represents western Queens, endorsed Constantinides in the race. Ramos has been affiliated with the NYC Democratic Socialists and was an early backer of Caban’s insurgent campaign in last year’s District Attorney election.
This voting bloc nearly propelled Tiffany Caban to victory in last year’s Democratic primary for District Attorney. Caban got 67% of the vote in Northwestern Queens, a section of the borough that overlaps with Constantinides’ council district, to Katz’s 19%. Caban came within sixty votes of beating Melinda Katz, the county party’s candidate in that race. Caban and Katz each received almost 39% of the vote.
Jim Quinn has the backing of the Queens’ Republican and Conservative parties, which could be significant in a crowded field. Eric Ulrich won Queens in the 2019 February special election for Public Advocate, with 29% of the vote in his home borough. While that may be a high water mark for conservatives in the borough, about a third of the vote might be enough, depending on how divided.
Like the Public Advocate special election, as with all special elections in New York City, the Borough President race is nonpartisan. This means that there is no primary prior to the general election and no party affiliation listed next to a candidate’s name on the ballot. This could work in Quinn’s favor, if all the Republicans in Queens vote for him, and the Democratic base is split several ways. In the Public Advocate race in February 2019, this happened within Queens, with Eric Ulrich taking a plurality of votes in the borough.
Only two candidates, Elizabeth Crowley and Costa Constantinides, met the Campaign Finance Board’s threshold to qualify for its 8-1 matching program. Candidates in this race need 100 contributions from Queens residents and $44,614 in funds raised. Only the match-eligible portion of a donation (up to $175 for Borough President races) can go towards the second part of the threshold.
Crowley raised $452,000 and received $498,000 through the matching program. She has a balance of $718,000. Constantinides has raised $228,000 and received $477,000 under the matching program. He has $491,000 cash-on-hand.
The three other candidates on the ballot did not meet the thresholds for the matching program. Richards raised $199,000 and has $127,000 in the bank. Quinn brought in $12,000 and has a negative balance. Dao Yin raised $50,000 and has $9,000 in remaining funds.
With very little known about Queens voters’ intentions at the moment, there are compelling cases to be made for three candidates. Crowley has raised the most money by far and has been able to collect some heavyweight endorsements. Richards has the backing of the Queens machine and a similar coalition to Katz’s 2019 win. Constantinides has courted the ascendant left-wing and has pulled in a significant fundraising haul that will keep him competitive.
Quinn could be a dark horse in the race, with the potential to capitalize on a split Democratic vote. Or, as his fundraising would suggest, he could have minimal impact on the final outcome.
The Crowley campaign internal poll had its candidate at 21%, Van Brammer at 16%, Richards at 10%, and Constantinides at 8%. However, the poll also found that 44% of voters were undecided. Assuming (and this is a big assumption) the poll is accurate, with Van Brammer’s exit, over half of voters are undecided in the race. With over a month left, almost anything is possible.
The special election will be held on Tuesday, March 24th.
Correction: The Special Election will take place on March 24th, not the 23rd, as previously stated.