Bronx Times November Election Primer: Congress and statewide races

P.S. 48 Joseph Rodman Drake school 2
Early voting in NYC kicks off on Saturday, Oct. 29.
Photo Adrian Childress

For months, Democrats and Republicans on the national and local scale have stressed the importance of the Nov. 8 midterms with the control of Congress – and political momentum heading in 2024 – hanging in the balance.

A total of 35 seats in the Senate are up for election – 12 Democratic seats and 23 Republican seats – in 2022. Democrats control the 50-50 chamber by virtue of Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote.

What are the issues and how will it affect New York’s big-ticket races?

Turnout will be a major factor, and more than 9.2 million people nationwide have cast ballots in person or by mail. Early voting begins Saturday, Oct. 29, and runs every day through Sunday, Nov. 6. Polling places are open from 6 a.m.-9 p.m. on Election Day.

A major storyline heading into the midterms is voter participation, with many forecasting a strong turnout following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade this summer, and months of dialogue regarding rising inflation and violent crime.

In Virginia, according to a recent poll by the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington, the abortion ruling is a major factor for nearly half the voters.

In New York, the governorship will be decided between incumbent Kathy Hochul and Long Island Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin, and the scanner-by-scanner breakdown will hold most of the night’s suspense.

Siena College polling since July, including as recently as mid-October, has shown Hochul with a significant lead over Zeldin. But other recent polls have suggested Hochul has only a modest advantage and could be in a tight battle as the polls close on election night. Hochul is trying to ward off the first Republican to win a gubernatorial election since George Pataki’s last election win in 2002.

Hochul, along with Mayor Eric Adams in New York City announced a plan to equip at least 300 stations during peak hours and transit officers to ride hundreds of additional trains per day, also during peak hours.

Voter attitudes toward crime, or the perception and fear of it, may have gotten Zeldin within striking distance in the race. There are signs that the crime message used by GOP candidates has helped Zeldin, a four-term congressman.

Analysis of 140,375 of the absentee ballots returns show Hochul with a 61%-23% edge in the early return, as of Tuesday night.

In New York City, murder rates are lower than they were two years ago, but rates of rape, robbery, assault and burglary are all up, according to NYPD data. Crime in the city’s transit system has seen a stark rise at 40%, driven particularly by larceny.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and Attorney General Letitia James — whose criminal case against former U.S. President Donald Trump and the Trump Organization for tax fraud is advancing to the jury selection stages — face Republican challengers Paul Rodriguez of Brooklyn and Queen native Michael Henry, respectively.

While the all-Democratic Bronx has three congressional seats up for grabs, and a healthy slate of local races, none are expected to be competitive.

State legislative competitiveness in 2022 reached its highest level compared to all even-year election cycles since 2010. The overall rise in competitiveness in 2022 is due to the presence of more open-seat contests and incumbents facing more primary challenges.

At the same time, there is a decline in head-to-head matchups between Republican and Democratic candidates in the general election.

U.S. Senate

Incumbent: Chuck Schumer (since 1999)
Challengers: Joe Pinion(Conservative party); Dane Care (Independent)

Schumer, the Senate majority leader, is a brand name in national politics.

His opponent Joe Pinion, is a 39-year-old Yonkers native who is a school choice advocate, has been outspoken on a variety of Schumer’s policies in media rounds with Sirius XM and Buffalo News.

Pinion used to host a show, “Saturday Agenda,” on Newsmax, the right-wing cable news network, but he hasn’t bought into the notion that Trump was cheated out of a second term.

The RealClearPolitics polling average shows Schumer – who hasn’t had a close race since first winning his Senate seat in 1998 – up by double digits.

U.S House of Representatives

13th Congressional District
Incumbent: 
Adriano Espaillat (Democrat)
Challenger: Odell Patterson (Independent)

The first Dominican-American to hold office in Congress, Espilliat has become a significant powerbroker in New York’s political scene, opening the doors for other aspirant Dominican-American politicos such as NYC councilmembers Oswald Feliz and Pierina Sanchez, and the landscape changing victory of District 78 candidate George Alvarez over longtime incumbent Jose Rivera in the June primaries.

While a heavily Manhattan district, buoyed by Washington Heights and Harlem, the 13th District includes parts of Fordham, Kingsbridge, Morris Heights and University Heights.

And Espilliat’s influence in Washington is also increasing, as he’s been a key voice on immigration talks with President Joe Biden and has been at the foot of several bicameral legislation efforts to increase investment and aid for Puerto Rico, which was hit hard in this recent hurricane season.

Odell Patterson, a client analyst with the federal Small Business Administration is an independent running in his first race.

14th Congressional District
Incumbent: 
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Democrat)
Challengers: Tina Forte (Republican), Desi Cuellar (Conservative)

While the 14th Congressional District race includes two Bronxites, Parkchester incumbent Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Throggs Neck native Tina Forte, they are as diametrically opposed on the political spectrum as any two candidates on the borough’s midterm ballot.

AOC, an ascendent progressive seeking her third term, embraces a democratic socialist platform which argues for free college, full cancellation of $1.6 trillion of student debt, single-payer Medicare for All and enshrined equal rights for marginalized communities. While she fostered a strong base through her town halls and social media, she’s also drawn criticism from those on the far-right and moderates in the Democratic Party.

Forte — who participated in Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally and other activities around Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6 — has used local hot button issues such as the scrapped Orchard Beach migrant tent plans and the rezoning of Bruckner Boulevard to continue to tout populist rhetoric.

Forte is considered a long shot to unseat AOC in November due to the incumbent’s high-profile status in local and national politics and the overwhelming Democratic voter registration advantage in the district.

Despite losing the August primary to Forte by a 67%-31% margin, Queens native Desi Joseph Cuellar will run on the Conservative Party line, which could eat into Forte’s vote total in the general election.

15th Congressional District 
Incumbent: 
Ritchie Torres (Democrat)
Challenger: Stylo A. Sapaskis (Republican)

At 34, Torres has already climbed up the political ladder in relatively short-time — rising from District 15 councilmember to sitting congresmember after winning a crowded 12-way primary to replace the retiring José E. Serrano.

Torres has long used his platform to advocate for gay rights, federal gun safety legislation and has maintained a good reputation among his voters scoring the highest congressional favorability (+63 points) of all politicians, according to a March 2022 poll by Data for Progress.

Torres was among a host of Bronx politicos successfully pushing for space heaters to be manufactured to shut off on their own in the Safer Heat Act in the aftermath of the Jan. 9 Twin Parks North West building fire that killed 17 people, including eight children.

Stylo A. Sapaskis, the Republican nominee, hasn’t reported any fundraising to the Federal Election Commission and has no information about his campaign available.

16th Congressional District 
Incumbent: 
Jamaal Bowman (Democrat)
Challenger: Dr. Miriam Levitt Flisser (Republican)

Two educators will battle for an important congressional seat that’s become more Westchester than Bronx these days. Over the past two decennial redistricting cycles, New York’s 16th Congressional District has adopted more Westchester constituents while shedding Bronx communities, most recently losing Riverdale, Woodlawn, Eastchester and Co-op City.

Despite Wakefield making up a sliver of the district’s new constituency, Bowman — who won the season in 2020 by unseating longtime incumbent Elliot Engel — still toppled two other Westchester-based candidates.

When he’s not advocating for Nia Long national holiday, Bowman is focused on helping Democrats maintain their slim control of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate in the midterms, which could pave the way for the party to pass women’s reproductive rights, criminal justice reform and voting rights legislation in 2023.

Miriam Levitt Flisser, a Bronx-raised pediatrician who survived Nazi persecution in East Europe as an infant is campaigning on reducing crime. Levitt-Flisser, who served two years as Scarsdale mayor from 2011-2013 is currently director of The Bronxville School.

The new 16th Congressional District, which gained more registered Republicans but still faces a Democratic advantage, includes Westchester’s four largest cities —Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, White Plains and Yonkers.

Reach Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter @bxtimes and Facebook @bxtimes

This article was updated on Nov. 1 at 5:12 p.m.

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