What could have been a repeat of 2018 for Southern Brooklyn turned out to be a throwback for this year’s elections. The results for the Congressional, State Senate, and Assembly District 46 showed less of a ‘blue wave’ and more of a mix of Democratic and Republican votes as the vote count showed tight races for all three.
In the end, incumbent Congressman Max Rose (D) lost to Republican Nicole Malliotakis, while State Senator Andrew Gounardes (D) narrowly won re-election over Vito Bruno (R). The results for AD-46 are still not finalized, but Assemblywoman Mathylde Frontus (D) looks to be in place to reclaim her seat from her challenger, Mark Szuszkiewicz (R ).
With the hopes Southern Brooklyn’s Democrats had for the 2020 elections, their party leaders admit to disappointment and now are reflecting on the outcome.
“It was obviously disappointing,” says Max Davidson, the secretary of the Brooklyn Young Democrats and the field organizer for Max Rose’s campaign in 2018. “We knew with Gounardes there would be an uphill battle, and it was an extremely tight race. For Max Rose, 2020 was not favorable for him, and that was a competitive seat.”
“People voted based on national trends,” says Hunter Rabinowitz, the Vice President of the Brooklyn Young Democrats’ South Brooklyn Region, and a native to the area. “In 2018, Trump was not at the top of the ticket, and in 2020, Trump was at the top. He increased his gains here, and there are microcosms of Brooklyn that are more conservative. People were mobilized by the national trends here.”
Those national trends Rabinowitz refers to include the Black Lives Matter movement, which might have stirred up emotions in a place with strong support for the NYPD. Even Davidson believes Rose marching with the protesters hurt his chances against Malliotakis, who’s campaign largely focused on supporting the NYPD.
This belief is also being echoed by Brooklyn’s noted Republican leaders.
“People are fed up with the Democrats,” said Liam McCabe, the president of the Verrazano Republicans Club and a former candidate for City Council D-43 in 2017. “Rose lost, I think, because it was very clear he was out of step with Southern Brooklyn. He marched with those who called for violence against the NYPD. Mathylde [Frontus] hasn’t done enough in Albany. Gounardes won in 2018 because of the tremendous number of campaign volunteers from outside the district.”
But Steve Maresca, the Execute Director of the Brooklyn GOP, has a broader explanation.
“Every election is different,” he said during a phone interview. “2018 was the first off-year election in the new president’s term. I think essentially the anti-Trump voters turned out, voted Democrat and the Trump voters on our side did not turn out in large numbers. Now that turned around this year.”
Another side that Maresca brings up is the changing population in Southern Brooklyn that could lead to a strong Republican presence for elections to come. He points out that the growing Orthodox Jewish population now votes solidly Republican because of President Trump’s support of Israel.
Both McCabe and Davidson agree this voting bloc could tilt the districts more towards the GOP. Davidson even points out that there’s a growing Russian community, and how large numbers of its members voted for Trump in 2016.
But what will actually determine the future elections and political winds of Southern Brooklyn is the results of the 2020 census, and how the districts will be redrawn. With the NYS Independent Redistricting Commission amended into the Constitution in 2014, the state government will not have as much control over the re-lining of the districts as before, which led to accusations of gerrymandering on both sides. Instead, the Commission will be more focused on the needs of the residents.
“The Commission will have to hold hearings,” said Jeffrey M. Wice, a census expert from the New York Census and Redistricting Institute. “They’ve got to do a robust public outreach program, listen to the public, and then develop new sets of lines by the end of next year.”
However, there are already obstacles. According to Wice, data as of August 2020 shows Brooklyn as a whole had the lowest census turnout of the five boroughs. Neighborhoods such as Bensonhurst and Bath Beach both had just under half of their populations register in the census. This could lead to misrepresentation of the actual political leanings of South Brooklyn’s future Congressional, State Senate, and Assembly districts.
At the same time, the COVID19 pandemic has led to more obstacles in the census count, as it effected field workers going out and finding residents in order to keep the census as accurate as possible.
“There’s a good chance it will be less accurate,” said Tom Wolf, senior counsel of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “The various conditions we’ve been grappling with will make it harder to do the relining of the districts.”
This is something Rabinowitz has been pondering over. “I don’t think anybody wants their districts to be underserved because of lack of countable representation, regardless of party affiliation,” he said. “This is going to make elected’s have to fight even harder for their communities since now they’re going to have to make up for voices in their districts that would be more automatically represented in certain aspects of redistricting and also for federal funding. Although both avoidable and unavoidable circumstances brought on the census issue in Southern Brooklyn, hopefully, the more holistic approach to redistricting in NYS will help to compensate for these counting concerns.”
Till then, both Southern Brooklyn’s Republicans and Democrats will be learning from 2020 and moving ahead towards next year’s city elections and the 2022 midterm elections, in particular with the voting process. It was absentee ballots that helped the Gounardes and Frontus teams move past their opponents after Bruno and Szuszkewicz initially won on election night. Maresca says this is something his party is taking note of, along with other circumstances.
“What we’re hoping to do is to run a strong slate of candidates,” he said. “[We’re] hoping to capitalize on Republican sentiment. And as I said, in the first off-year election to a newly elected president, the party out of power in the White House does better. So, I’m looking for the Republican party to benefit.”
Meanwhile, Rabinowitz is hoping that with Democrats having the majority in the State Senate, voting rights will be a priority.
“Hopefully, we’ll also see more resources put into early voting sites. Especially with the 2021 City Wide Elections and 2022 midterm and statewide elections coming up, folks should not have to wait on those long lines and have their vote suppressed for a second or third election cycle to elect their local representatives,” Rabinowitz said.