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Council Elections 2021

DECISION 2021: Election Wins and Losses for the Livable Streets Movement

The montage is the message.

Election Day went as expected at the top levels, as the all-but certain winners Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Council Member Brad Lander secured their promotions. 

New Yorkers also voted overwhelmingly in favor of Proposition 2, a contentious ballot proposal that doesn't read particularly controversial: “Each person shall have a right to clean air and water, and a healthful environment." (On its face, the new constitutional right could give residents of the Empire State the legal standing to stop the environmental harms caused by the gas-guzzling cars and trucks, advocates told Streetsblog (though others worried it could have an unintended NIMBY-effect by leveraging naysayers to file lawsuits that would stop much-needed transportation and other development projects). Nonetheless, it's now part of the State Constitution and will be up to the courts on how to adjudicate it.

Meanwhile, the safe-streets movement scored some major, although predictable, victories with new allies such as Shahana Hanif, Shekar Krishnan, Julie Won, Nantasha Williams, and Pierina Sanchez securing their elections to what will be the first-ever majority-women City Council.

But the movement also suffered some losses. Here’s a spotlight on a few races and candidates that Streetsblog has not previously covered:

Brooklyn 

43rd Council District — Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, Bath Beach (Council Member Justin Brannan, incumbent) 

As of Wednesday afternoon, Republican candidate Brian Fox was narrowly beating Democratic incumbent Justin Brannan by just 255 votes, or 1 percent. But Brannan, who was endorsed by StreetsPAC, contends that he’s got enough absentee votes in his arsenal to eke out a win and keep his seat. 

And Fox, who makes no mention on his website of how he plans to tackle the rise in traffic violence apart from saying he will amp up enforcement against drag racing, attacked Brannan for his own record on street safety, calling him a hypocrite for racking up 16 speeding tickets.

Fox did not respond to a request for an interview.

47th Council District — Bensonhurst, Coney Island, Gravesend, Sea Gate (Council Member Mark Treyger, term-limited) 

Democrat Ari Kagan bested his Republican competitor Mark Szuszkiewicz to replace the term-limited Council member for the district, Mark Treyger. Kagan, who won by 283 votes with 97 percent of the ballots counted as of Wednesday, did not respond to requests for comment. He lists on his website plans to fix bus stops and fund a shuttle service in his district. 

48th Council District — Brighton Beach, Homecrest, Manhattan Beach, Midwood, Sheepshead Bay (Vacated by Council Member Chaim Deutsch)

Republican Inna Vernikov beat Democrat Steve Saperstein for the seat that had been occupied by anti-bike lane Council Member Chaim Deutsch until he was convicted of tax fraud and sentenced to three months in prison. Vernikov, who won 63 percent of the ballots counted with 12,082 votes, told The Brooklyn Paper last month that she is a cyclist and supports bike lanes but opposes bus lanes and open streets because they take away parking. 

"I am a biker and I am also in favor of expanding bike lanes. But I do not support expanding bus lanes, Open Streets and Open Restaurants programs that reduce driving and parking spaces," she told the paper.

Vernikov did not respond to a request for an interview. 

Queens 

19th Council District — College Point, Whitestone, Bayside, Douglaston, Little Neck, North Flushing, and Auburndale (Council Member Paul Vallone, term-limited)

Voters had a chance to replace Paul Vallone — who was one of five members of the City Council who voted against a landmark street-safety bill last year — with someone more friendly to street-safety issues, but in a major upset, the Republican candidate, Vickie Paladino, bested her Democratic rival Tony Avella. Paladino won with 12,143 votes, or nearly 50 percent, to Avella’s 10,490, almost 43 percent. 

Paladino, an apologist for neo-Nazis and the Proud Boys who was once caught on camera leading a conga line sans mask at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic last winter, did not respond to a request for comment. On her website, she says she supports fully funding the NYPD, but makes no mention of any transportation or street-safety-related issues.

32nd Council District — Belle Harbor, Breezy Point, Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Lindenwood, Neponsit, Ozone Park, Richmond Hill, Rockaway Park, Roxbury, South Ozone Park, West Hamilton Beach, Woodhaven (Council Member Eric Ulrich, term-limited)

Like in District 19, Felicia Singh, who had the endorsement of StreetsPAC and won the Democratic primary in June, surprisingly lost big to Joann Ariola, who ran on the Conservative and Republican/Save Our City lines. Ariola won 67 percent of the vote.

Ariola, the chairwoman of the Queens GOP and member of Community Board 10, does not list any transportation or street-safety issues on her website, and she did not respond to a request for an interview.

Staten Island 

49th Council District — North Shore of Staten Island, including New Brighton, Port Richmond, St. George, Snug Harbor, Stapleton, West Brighton and Tompkinsville (Council Member Debi Rose, term-limited)

Democrat Kamillah Hanks bested the Republic candidate, Patricia Rondinelli, keeping the district, now represented by Council Member Debi Rose, blue. Hanks, who won 13,149 votes, or 56 percent, lists on her website that expanding bus lanes and Bus Rapid Transit are among her priorities for the office.

"To live on Staten Island is to know how difficult it is just to get around. For years, we have had studies and empty promises. It’s time for action.  A strong transportation infrastructure would result in economic growth for the North Shore and all of Staten Island," Hanks wrote on her website. "The expansion of bus lines and service across Staten Island will benefit all Islanders and will help to alleviate the added burden on North Shore bus and train lines."

Hanks did not respond to a request for an interview.

50th Council District — Central Staten Island, including Fort Wadsworth, Manor Heights, Midland Beach, New Dorp, New Springville, Todt Hill, Travis, Westerleigh, and Willowbrook (Council Member Steven Matteo, term-limited) 

Republican David Carr pulled out a win against Democrat Sal Albanese, a veteran 15-year Council member who represented swaths of Southern Brooklyn before moving to The Rock in 2017. Carr, who won 61 percent of the vote, did not respond to a request for an interview. 

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