Election locks in huge changes in Dems party leadership

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Nearly 150 million votes — and counting — were cast in what became a historic voter turnout across the country as Americans took sides in a contentious presidential race. 

Yet, votes weren’t just limited to Joe Biden or Donald Trump. They also were shared with candidates “ down-ballot” as well in congressional and state government races. And, at least in New York, judicial races.

After Jamaal Bowman topped Eliot Engel for his congressional seat in the Democratic primary last summer, there weren’t a whole lot of surprises come Election Day. Alessandra Biaggi handily won re-election to the state senate, as did Jeffrey Dinowitz to the Assembly. The Bronx skews heavily Democrat — and Riverdale, Kingsbridge and surrounding neighborhoods are no different.

Despite the host of unsurprising results, the race is the culmination of two years of big shifts in elected leadership. Two years ago, Biaggi unseated long-term incumbent Jeff Klein. Bowman followed suit when his progressive ideals won over Engel’s 30 years in office. And, with Andrew Cohen leaving his city council seat early to take his spot as a Bronx supreme court judge, Dinowitz is the last man standing of a longstanding foursome.

Hours before the polls closed on Election Day, Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy became a hotspot for local politicos. 

As voters filtered in and out of the site, Dinowitz, Cohen and Bowman gathered outside to chat with voters — and each other. They were joined by state Sen. Jamaal Bailey — the new chair of the Bronx Democrats — along with comptroller and mayoral candidate Scott Stringer.

“I am nervous about my race, even though we should be fine,” Bowman said, as he watched would-be voters walk past him. “It’s not over till it’s over. So I can’t wait for like 9:30, or whenever it’s called.”

Yet, once polls close, Bowman says the race really becomes exciting. At least for him. 

“I just feel like it’s a great opportunity to continue the work I did in education, and continue the work I did during the campaign to really bring people together and fight for justice in all its forms,” the congressman-elect said.

Bowman’s campaign waited weeks after the summer primary to declare victory as thousands of absentee ballots were counted. Without a significant Republican or Conservative Party challenger, the election was nowhere near close enough to wait for every last vote to be counted. 

The same wasn’t true on the presidential side, however. Hours turned into days as swing states counted votes on close margins. Headed to Washington, Bowman — an unofficial member of U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “Squad” — wasn’t sure if he’d be working alongside Biden or up against Trump.

“That will be what it’s going to be, and either way we’re going to have to work and fight hard for the people of this district,” Bowman said. “So, it would be horrible, it would be heartbreaking, it would suck tremendously” if Trump were to win. “But we’ve still got to work, and I still believe in the values of our country, and I still believe in the American people.”

While Bowman’s election brought national attention to the Bronx and Westchester, it’s not the only one drawing eyes locally.

Andrew Cohen was officially nominated to the Bronx supreme court in September. While he and the other two Democratic nominees did appear on the ballot for three open slots, it was merely a formality in the Democratic-controlled borough.

“I have not really spent a lot of time thinking about the race or anything like that,” Cohen said. “I’ve been focused on my work, but it’s starting to feel real that my time in the city council is starting to wind down.”

His focus is on finishing up a busy few months as chair of the consumer affairs committee, he said, ensuring his eight staff members land on their feet after his tenure ends.

A special election is expected in March — one of three city council special elections in the borough. Richie Torres will join Bowman in Washington, leaving a seat open in his district. And Andy King was expelled in a historic vote just a month ago. 

Both seats will likely be filled before next spring, with one special election already planned for Dec. 22 for King’s seat.

Biaggi’s opponent, James Gisondi, didn’t really present much of a threat. A Republican who changed party affiliations to primary the freshman senator, Gisondi picked up 18,000 votes compared to Biaggi’s nearly 51,000 in early tallies. 

Still, even a challenger who is not a threat can be bothersome. Biaggi believes Gisondi was recruited to run against her, both in the primary and the general election.

“The games that go on here are important for people to understand, this is just another symptom of the Bronx Democratic machine — and it’s getting pretty old,” Biaggi said. “It’s just like meant to waste people’s time, and nobody has time to waste in a borough where we have had more deaths and unemployment. Like literally Depression-level unemployment. And this man is playing games with our government.”

Biaggi and Dinowitz were key to passing legislation ensuring absentee ballots were sent to every voter in November requesting one.

Dinowitz has since introduced a new bill that would allow voters to track their ballots through the mail to ensure they reached their destination. He hopes to see local government move to amend the state constitution to allow permanent expanded voting by mail.

And, despite seeing some of his long-term colleagues on their way to other things, Dinowitz says he’s excited to work with the new crop of leadership — which he hopes will include his son, Eric, if he were to beat out at least six other challengers now for Cohen’s council seat.

“I’m very excited and optimistic about things that are coming up in the future,” the Assemblyman said. “We have a great district, and I expect to have a good relationship with Congressman-elect Bowman, just like I have a great relationship with Congressman (Adriano) Espaillat. 

“Things change. Nothing stays the same forever.”

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