The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Carolyn Fiddler, and Matt Booker, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
● Buffalo, NY Mayor: Buffalo is poised to become the first major American city in more than 60 years to elect a self-described socialist as mayor following nurse India Walton’s upset victory in Tuesday’s Democratic primary against four-term incumbent Byron Brown. Walton would also be the first woman to lead New York’s second-largest city.
Walton, a first-time candidate, holds a 52-45 lead over Brown, and while the margin may shift when absentee votes are tabulated, the Associated Press called the race for her Wednesday “after it became clear there weren’t enough absentee ballots for Brown to overcome Walton’s lead.” Buffalo gave 80% of its vote to Joe Biden, and Walton should have no trouble in the November general election.
Walton very much looked like the underdog in what the Buffalo News characterized just before Memorial Day as “the so far quiet Democratic primary,” but there were signs Brown, a former state party chair who was seeking an unprecedented fifth term as mayor, could be vulnerable. He notably won just 51% of the vote in the 2017 primary against two sitting elected officials, which wasn’t a strong showing for a longtime incumbent. Federal officials since then have reportedly been investigating Brown’s administration over city contracts, though there have been no recent public developments.
Walton herself had the support of the Working Families Party, and she earned the backing of the Buffalo Teachers Federation two weeks ahead of Election Day. And while the challenger didn’t have nearly as much money available as Brown, she still brought in enough to get her message out.
Brown largely ignored Walton during the campaign, but his opponent very much wanted to turn the race into a referendum on his nearly 16 years in office. Walton, who has called for defunding the police, faulted the incumbent for his handling of police brutality. Her argument was bolstered by supporter Martin Gugino, who spent a month in the hospital last year after local officers shoved him to the ground during a protest against the murder of George Floyd: The incident attracted national attention, but none of the officers involved were charged. Walton also declared that Brown had done a poor job handling the pandemic and was backed by “billionaire” donors.
Walton had the endorsement of the Democratic Socialists of America, and she responded in the affirmative when reporters asked her on election night if she considered herself a socialist. Walton’s victory in the November general election would make her the first such mayor of a major American city since Frank Zeidler, who won his final term as the leader of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1956.
Brown’s defeat makes him the first Buffalo mayor to lose re-election since 1961, but he may still try to remain in office this fall. While it’s too late for him to appear on the ballot as another party’s nominee, Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner told the Buffalo News that Brown was mulling a write-in effort. However, even though the county party supported the incumbent in the primary, Zellner said that his group was backing Walton now that she’s won the nomination.
Another familiar name is also making noises about running as a write-in in a general election where Republicans aren’t fielding a candidate. Carl Paladino, a proto-Trump who was Team Red’s 2010 nominee for governor, told WNY he was “seriously considering” this option, declaring, “Buffalo needs real leadership. Socialism doesn’t work.” Paladino has been out of office since 2017 following his colleagues’ decision to kick him off the Buffalo School Board after he published details from closed-door negotiations over teacher contracts.
● CO-Sen: Air Force veteran Eli Bremer, who competed in the 2008 Olympics in the pentathlon and finished 22nd overall, says he’s considering a Senate bid as a Republican next year. Bremer, who is the nephew of diplomat L. Paul Bremer, the viceroy of Iraq following the U.S. invasion in 2003, recently met with NRSC officials in D.C. but said he doesn’t have a timetable for making a decision. However, he’ll be serving as a commentator for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, which don’t conclude until Aug. 8. So far, Republicans have yet to land a notable candidate to take on Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet.
● MA-Gov: State Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz announced Wednesday that she would seek the Democratic nomination to take on Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who has yet to say if he’ll run for a third term next year. Chang-Díaz, who is the daughter of NASA’s first Latino astronaut, Franklin Chang Díaz, joins former state Sen. Ben Downing and political scientist Danielle Allen in the primary.
Chang-Díaz, who is of Chinese and Costa Rican descent, became the first Latina elected to the chamber after she won a Boston state Senate seat in 2008, and she is currently the only woman of color in the 40-member chamber. The Boston Globe‘s Matt Stout wrote back in March that Chang-Díaz, whom he characterized as a “longtime advocate for school funding reform,” last year “helped negotiate the Legislature’s sweeping policing bill.”
Chang-Díaz, like Allen, would be the first woman of color to serve as governor of Massachusetts as well as the first woman elected to this post.
● MD-Gov: Former DNC chair Tom Perez, who’d long been preparing a bid, formally kicked off his campaign for Maryland’s open governorship on Wednesday. Perez, who was born in Buffalo, New York, moved to Maryland after graduating law school in the late 1980s and worked as a federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C.; he later became an adviser to Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy on civil rights, and then served in the Department of Health and Human Services at the end of the Clinton administration.
In 2002, he won a seat on the county council in Montgomery County, Maryland, which is located just outside of D.C., making him the first Latino to ever do so. Four years later, he ran for the office of state attorney general after Democratic incumbent J. Joseph Curran announced his retirement. However, Perez was ruled ineligible to run just weeks before the primary after a lawsuit brought by a Republican candidate for state comptroller challenged his qualifications on the grounds that he had not practiced law in Maryland for the requisite 10 years.
Perez argued that his years as a prosecutor—which included prosecuting cases in Maryland—should count, but the state’s highest court held that only membership in the Maryland bar sufficed. That decision would ultimately have reverberations impacting next year’s gubernatorial race: The beneficiary of Perez’s misfortune turned out to be Montgomery County State’s Attorney Doug Gansler, who went on to serve two terms as attorney general. Gansler lost the 2014 primary for governor in disastrous fashion but is now back for another run.
Not long after his abortive bid for state office, though, the state’s new governor, Martin O’Malley, tapped Perez to serve as Maryland’s secretary of labor—a post he’d later hold on a much bigger stage when Barack Obama nominated him to run the federal Department of Labor in 2013. After the 2016 elections, Perez ran for the position of DNC chair with the support of Joe Biden and other Obama officials, defeating Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison for a four-year term. He left the job after concluding his term early this year.
Perez joins a heavyweight Democratic field that features among others, state Comptroller Peter Franchot and former U.S. Secretary of Education John King. It also appears to include—after much confusion—former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker. In mid-April, Baker said he was running, but then very shortly followed that up to say he was still considering. Earlier this month, though, he retweeted a notice about an event that described him as a “candidate for governor,” and his campaign website, which had been non-operational, is now online.
● MI-Gov: Businessman Kevin Rinke, who has run auto dealerships in the Detroit area, says he’s considering a bid for the GOP nomination for governor next year. Republicans have yet to land a notable candidate to take on Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
● TX-Gov: In a new piece on Democratic recruiting in Texas, the Texas Tribune‘s Abby Livingston mentions Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo as a possible candidate for governor. Hidalgo herself hasn’t commented in a while, but in April, she declined to rule out the idea, saying “I wouldn’t say it’s something that I’m actively pursuing right now.” She also noted that her current plan was to run for re-election next year.
Hidalgo, who just became eligible to be governor when she turned 30 in February, narrowly defeated longtime Republican incumbent Ed Emmett 50-48 in 2018 and gained prominence with progressives last year for her efforts to ease voting access during the coronavirus pandemic.
● PA-07: Businesswoman Lisa Scheller, who just kicked off her bid for a rematch against Democratic Rep. Susan Wild, has received endorsements from eight of the nine Republicans who represent Pennsylvania in the House (Scott Perry is the lone holdout). So far, Scheller is the only candidate in the GOP primary, though businessman Kevin Dellicker said in March that he was considering the race.
● New York City, NY Primaries: Tuesday’s primaries in New York City saw the highest turnout in a mayoral race in more than 30 years, but it will still be some time—perhaps many weeks—before we know the winners in most of the marquee contests. Some 220,000 voters requested absentee ballots, and as long as they were postmarked by Election Day, they’ll still be accepted until June 29 (so far, more than 80,000 have been returned). The city’s board of elections has said that we won’t see any tallies of absentee ballots before July 6, and that the completion of the absentee count won’t come until some unspecified later date.
There’s also the matter of ranked-choice voting, which was used in almost all of the major races (Manhattan district attorney being the main exception). So far, only first-choice votes have been released. Officials say they will start running the RCV process on June 29 and will continue to do so once a week until the elections are finalized. Of course, this means that they’ll be releasing RCV results that do not include all ballots—and for the initial run at least, no absentee votes at all—so those results may be particularly volatile.
It is, however, quite rare for the candidate who wins the most first-choice votes to lose in later rounds: In some 400 ranked-choice elections since 2004 studied by the pro-RCV group FairVote, the ultimate winner came from behind after the first round just 4% of the time. But in nearly every race, the one thing we can say is that the eventual Democratic nominee will be the overwhelming favorite in November, given how solidly blue most parts of New York are.
● New York City, NY Mayor: With 800,000 first-choice votes counted in the Democratic primary, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams leads with 32% of the vote, while attorney Maya Wiley holds a 22-20 edge over former City Sanitation Commissioner Kaitlyn Garcia. Andrew Yang, the 2020 presidential candidate who spent much of the year as the front-runner, is far back in fourth with 12% and conceded on election night.
● New York City, NY Comptroller: With 730,000 first-choice votes counted in the Democratic primary, City Councilman Brad Lander leads City Council Speaker Corey Johnson 31-23; former CNBC anchor Michelle Caruso-Cabrera is a distant third with 14%.
● Manhattan, NY District Attorney: With 212,000 votes counted in the Democratic primary, Alvin Bragg leads Tali Farhadian Weinstein, a fellow former prosecutor, 34-30. Note that because this is a state rather than a city office, ranked-choice voting was not used in this race, meaning it only takes a plurality to win.
● Queens, NY Borough President: Incumbent Donovan Richards is the only one of New York City’s five borough presidents who wasn’t termed out of office this year, but he’s in serious danger of losing his Democratic primary. With 155,000 first-choice votes counted, Richards is sitting on a small 42-40 edge over former City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, while City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer takes the remaining 18%.
Crowley, who is the cousin of former Rep. Joe Crowley, has unsuccessfully run for office several times in the recent past, most recently losing to Donovan 36-29 in last year’s special election primary. That streak may finally come to an end, though, since there’s a reasonable chance that Van Bramer’s second-choice votes will favor Crowley as a fellow non-incumbent.
● Staten Island, NY Borough President: Former Rep. Vito Fossella, a Republican who retired from Congress after the public learned about his secret second family in 2008, leads City Councilman Steven Matteo 43-41 with 17,000 first-choice votes counted. On the Democratic side, Mark Murphy, who was the 2012 nominee for New York’s 11th Congressional District, has a wide 47-21 edge over Lorraine Honor with 23,000 first-choice votes counted.
● Rochester, NY Mayor: City Councilman Malik Evans scored a lopsided 66-34 victory against embattled incumbent Lovely Warren in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, and he’ll be the clear favorite in the November general for this very blue city.
Warren herself won this office in 2013 after a primary that saw one of the biggest polling misses we’ve ever seen, but she faced a myriad of challenges in her quest for a third term. The mayor was indicted last year for campaign finance fraud, and she faced additional scrutiny this year after a special investigator concluded that Warren and her administration misled constituents about the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man who died in police custody.
The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle‘s Brian Sharp writes that there were few policy differences between Evans and Warren. The challenger, who held a financial advantage, also largely refrained from criticizing Warren directly and instead argued he’d bring transparency to city government.
● Syracuse, NY Mayor: Democrats are hoping to unseat independent Mayor Ben Walsh this fall, but it will be a while longer before they know the identity of their nominee. With about 5,400 votes counted from Tuesday’s primary, Khalid Bey leads Michael Greene, his colleague on the Syracuse Common Council (the local version of a city council), 50.4-49.6―a margin of 46 votes. There’s still time for more absentees to arrive, though Syracuse.com says that more than half of the 520 absentee ballots received so far come from areas Bey won.
The city supported Syracuse University law alum Joe Biden 77-21 four years after it backed Hillary Clinton by a similar margin, but Democrats are hardly assured victory in the fall. Walsh won in 2017 by defeating Democrat Juanita Perez Williams, who would go on to unsuccessfully compete in the primary for the 24th Congressional District the next year, by a wide 54-38 margin.
Republicans, meanwhile, chose Janet Burman on Tuesday in a primary where fewer than 900 votes have been tabulated so far, but it remains to be seen if she’ll be a factor: Four years ago, GOP nominee Laura Levine secured just 3% of the vote, which put her a point behind Green Party contender Howie Hawkins.