Shrewd Analysis of Recent Democratic Party Primary
September 20, 2018
Letters To Finkelstein
I had a long night yesterday. I was at the election night watch party hosted by the Working Families Party with Cynthia, Jumanne & Zephyr.
Here are just some takeaways. Writing this in bullet points because my brain is still fried and exhausted.
I knew Cynthia was going to lose. I was getting bad reports from canvassers that volunteered for all three: Cynthia, Jumanne, and Zephyr. They kept telling me that when they go door-to-door and open the conversation with Cynthia, a lot of people shut the door. So instead, the canvassers started to begin the discussion at the door by introducing Zephyr, Jumanne and talking mostly about them, and just at the end of the conversation, slipping in extra information about Cynthia.
Cynthia also had a terrible ground game. Abdul El-Sayed for instance, the Michigan gubernatorial candidate that was backed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez & Bernie Sanders, was door knocking the entire state for a year and still lost (but could have likely won if it was a two-person race). Cynthia entered the race in March and didn’t do door knocking or phone banking until like a month ago. She didn’t make a case for herself to people of color that have no idea Cynthia Nixon is an activist or was in Sex and the City. Her name recognition was exaggerated.
Good news: 6 out of the 8 IDC members in the State Senate lost their primaries. The IDC has blocked various progressive legislation that was voted in by the Assembly – from sanctuary state legislation to the New York Health Act.
The most significant victory for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s endorsed candidates was Alessandra Biaggi, who defeated Jeff Klein. State Senator Klein has taken more money from the real state industry than anyone else and has been the architect of the IDC. Klein spent $2.5 million and outspent Biaggi by 10 to 1. In context, Cynthia Nixon spent $2 million in her entire governor’s race. I know for months that folks in that one state senate district in the Bronx were getting annoyed by the constant mailers they were being bombarded with.
What to make all of this? The Left can win and organize in cities. Look at where Ocasio’s endorsed candidate’s won. Rashida Tlaib, whose district covers Detroit. Ilhan Omar covers Minneapolis. Ayanna Pressley covers Boston. And the State Senate races in the city: Biaggi in the Bronx, Salazar in Brooklyn, and Ramos in Queens. (although Ocasio only implicitly endorsed Ramos – she just opposed her opponent Jose Peralta when he started sending out misleading flyers).
And look where Ocasio’s endorsed candidates lost: Kerri Evelyn Harris in Delaware, Abdul El-Sayed in Michigan, Paula Jean Swearengin in West Virginia, Kaniela Ing in Hawai, Brent Welder in Kansas, and of course, Cynthia Nixon, Jumanne Williams, Zephyr Teachout in the statewide races in New York.
In other words, we can currently win in the cities, but we still struggle everywhere else. When you are outspent 10 to 1 in a race that mostly covers a city, you can still win by canvassing. But it won’t work in sparse and isolated areas statewide. With long driveways and lack of sidewalks, going from door to door in a suburb takes way longer.
So we can either put all our energy into the cities with the strategies we have now. But we need to rethink how we approach the suburbs.
Juan Gonzalez made a similar observation when he was promoting his book “Reclaiming Gotham.” In the 1960s and 70s, it was a left-leaning federal level that was cracking down on local governments that didn’t want to desegregate. And now, it is the left-leaning local level that is playing defense against the right-wing federal government trying to deport and destroy black & brown communities.
I have never done any field organizing in Florida, so I cannot speak about this from a personal experience. But some sources say that Bernie Sanders’ backed gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, running the least amount of TV ads, won the Democratic primary thanks largely to an impressive ground game. So there are cases where a massive canvassing operation could take over a whole state. But even in Gillum‘ case, it was still the cities of Jacksonville, Tampa, Orlando, and Miami that put him over the edge to win a crowded primary race with 34% of the vote.
However, given that she had a net worth of $60 million, I wish Cynthia Nixon had spent an additional $4 million out of pocket on a massive field operation in just New York City, and she might have been able to defeat Cuomo
Here is the best article on Julia Salazar’s constituents that propelled her to victory. I’m assuming you have read the crazy controversies from her being on Glenn Beck’s show six years ago criticizing the Palestinian solidarity movements on campus, her bizarre legal battle with Kieth Hernandez’s wife, and her lying about being an immigrant, working class, graduating from Columbia, etc. For some of the coverage, she was unfairly targeted by the media, especially the Daily Caller that outed the story about her being sexually assaulted by Netanyahu’s spokesperson. (This story seems to be true since Shayndi Raice confirmed it). I am happy that Salazar won against a real estate puppet like Dilan. But she did lie about her background and her core base – the young white millennials of Bushwick, Greenpoint, and Williamsburg – didn’t care because many of them have also been guilty of fetishizing pain to establish moral authority. I know these people well: they all moved to a trendy area of NYC to escape what they perceive to be a boring and conservative suburban life. Like Julia Salazar, they were escaping the past and creating a new identity and starting over in a gentrified Brooklyn. This is a spot on analysis of my generation. https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/evefairbanks/we-are-all-julia-salazar-i-wish-we-werent
Julia Salazar’s campaign may have been one PR nightmare. But there is one thing we can thank her campaign for. Proving once and for all – to all us humble organizers – that field beats press in elections.