Upper house

DSA has a chance to make another leap forward in New York politics

In June, the New York Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) has another great opportunity to add one of its own to the State Senate.

Twenty-six-year-old tech Kristen Gonzalez recently announced her candidacy for a new senatorial district covering parts of Brooklyn and Queens. She is expected to get DSA’s full backing, joining So late which already has several candidates vying for the state assembly in the five suburban boroughs. Gonzalez’s election would be crucial for the Democratic Socialists, who already have two state senators in Julia Salazar and Jabari Brisport but are looking to increase their influence in Albany, where the most important policy-making happens.

Gonzalez pledges to fight for DSA’s top legislative priorities, especially the evictions for good cause bill that would make it much harder for landlords to evict tenants. It supports a movement towards public property of the local energy system. Gonzalez would also join other members of the DSA in an attempt to pass the long blockade. New York Health Lawwhich would create single-payer health care across the state.

The new state Senate seat, carved out of a Democratic-controlled neighborhood recutting process which added two districts to New York, may be tailor-made for someone like Gonzalez, an active member of the DSA. Greenpoint, Long Island City and Sunnyside — all neighborhoods filled with left-leaning, financially-pressed professionals ready to vote Socialist — belong to the district, as well as sections of Queens where left-leaning candidate for city council, Felicia Singh, performed well in the past year. The DSA Municipal Chapter is stronger than it has ever been and should be able to aggressively fundraise for Gonzalez, as well as offer him plenty of volunteers. The neighborhood is quite diverse: with 38% Latinos, 31% Whites and 19% Asians, no particular group predominates.

Gonzalez will have a serious challenger in the June Democratic primary, however. Elizabeth Crowley, a former city councillor, has applied and is expected to announce her candidacy soon. Crowley is the first cousin of Joe Crowley, the former congressman and Democratic boss from Queens whom Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated four years ago. Her old neighborhood overlapped with the new Senate headquarters, and there are neighborhoods where she will be formidable, including Glendale, still a stronghold of conservative white voters.

If the weakened machine of Queens has a candidate in the contest, it will be Crowley, but it would be too simplistic to say that she is the favorite of the Democratic Party. Crowley once ran for Congress against her cousin Joe’s endorsed candidate, Grace Meng. And in a recent unsuccessful bid for Queens borough president, she ran into county organization pick Donovan Richards.

What will make the race a challenge for DSA is that Crowley is likely stronger than defeated Democrats Salazar and Brisport to win their seats. His loss to Richards, who is black, was incredibly narrow. And she was willing to rant about race and criminal justice reform to turn voters against him, according to Richards. In a searing statement last year, Richards called Crowley a ‘racist’ and claimed the former city council member ‘repeatedly insinuated that she would have won had it not been for the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Movement. Matter that followed across our country.”

“She later tried to bully me into giving her a job in our administration with veiled threats of a divisive and dirty campaign if I didn’t,” Richards continued. “She has clearly followed through on that threat, using the politics of fear throughout this run with mailers disguised as eviction notices and racist dog whistles in her public safety messaging.” (Crowley called the statement “libelous and false.”)

At the same time, Crowley has been willing to tackle issues unpopular with her more conservative constituents. While on city council, she championed an ultimately successful expansion of bus lanes in her neighborhood and fought for renewal of a controversial train line. She also kissed a closing plan of the notorious Rikers Island prison complex which was initially popular on the left, although activists eventually turned against him because he called for the construction of new outer borough prisons. In his former right-wing neighborhood, any attempt to shut down Rikers was reviled.

The good news for DSA is that there’s probably more ground in Gonzalez’s friendly neighborhood than Crowley’s, given the demographic divides and the number of young progressives drawn to the siege. A victory for DSA would be significant because the senate is a much smaller body than the assembly. Three socialists are the beginnings of a real bloc that can swing the votes of the legislative elections in the future. That’s the goal: to elect more and more accountable legislators to a socialist organization that is now a real political force in New York.