An election with an incumbent is very different from one without. More often than not, the incumbent wins ––with exceptions of course (for example, this past summer’s Assembly upsets in the primary). An incumbent possess a huge advantage and when an incumbent leaves, the race becomes a whole new beast –– more competetive and more unpredictable. And that’s what City Councilmember Barry Grodenchik (D-Bayside Hills, Bellerose, Douglaston, Floral Park, Fresh Meadows, Glen Oaks, Hollis, Hollis Hills, Holliswood, Little Neck, New Hyde Park, Oakland Gardens, Queens Village) did this week when he announced that he would not be running for re-election in 2021 to represent District 23 the city council –– create a whole new beast.
Until Wednesday, Grodenchik, who is one of handful of city councilmembers in Queens not facing term limits was going to be defending his seat in the 2021 city council elections. His decision to not try for re-election has opened the door for the — as of now — three other candidates vying for the seat –– Linda Lee, Jaslin Kaur and Christopher Fuentes-Padilla.
Fuentes-Padilla, a former Libertarian who is running for the council as a Democrat, said he had been looking forward to challenging Grodechik on what he called “his apparent inability to remain available to the public.”
But that won’t be necessary anymore, he said.
”Now that he’s out of the picture, it’s cleared a road for me and the other candidates in the race to debate the newfound challenges our district faces instead of the mistakes of the past councilmembers,” said Fuentes-Padilla in a Twitter direct message.
Kaur, who announced her candidacy on Thursday, also welcomed the freedom that comes with not having to challenge a sitting councilmember. But it won’t change her policy priorities, she said in a direct message on Twitter.
“I still have a responsibility and obligation to pick up what has been left behind in District 23,” she said.
Kaur also mentioned Grodenchik’s record of sexual harassment. In May 2019, he admitted to sexually harassing a female staffer. He kept his position on the council but had to undergo harassment training and step down from his role as chair of the Committee on Parks and Recreation.
As an advocate for survivors of sexual assault, Kaur felt the council did not do enough to hold him accountable.
“I will still fight to transform accountability measures within City Council to build an ethics process that works towards real accountability,” she said. “For many advocates and community members like myself, that damage has lingered and we are continuing the fight against institutional power.”
Lee did not provide comment in time for this story.
Two former opponents to Grodenchik in the 2015 election also chimed in on the new opportunities opened up by his backing out of the fray.
Rebecca Lynch, who lost to Grodenchik by a mere 500 votes in 2015, said in a Twitter thread that the district has never elected a woman, and that now it has the chance to elect someone who represents the true diversity of the district.
“A woman can win this seat. A person of color can win this seat. A progressive can win this seat. A woman must win this seat. A person of color must win this seat. A progressive must win this seat Lets hold ourselves to nothing less than electing the #Queens23 CM of our dreams,” she wrote.
Lynch lives in Wisconsin now and came out in support of Kaur on Thursday.
Ali Najmi, who also ran in 2015 but has decided against running in 2021, echoed her sentiment.
“But we need a Council Member who understands the needs of the many medallion owners and app based drivers in the district and our huge immigrant senior population. Our next Council Member from #CD23 should be a woman. #Queens,” he tweeted.