Come June, the New York City chapter of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) has another prime opportunity to add one of their own to the state senate.
Kristen Gonzalez, a twenty-six-year-old tech worker, recently announced her bid for a newly created senate district spanning parts of Brooklyn and Queens. She is expected to get the full support of DSA, joining a slate that already includes several candidates running for the state assembly in the five boroughs in the suburbs. Electing Gonzalez would be pivotal for the democratic socialists, who already have two state senators in Julia Salazar and Jabari Brisport but are looking to grow their clout in Albany, where most important policymaking gets done.
Gonzalez is vowing to fight for DSA’s top legislative priorities, especially the good cause eviction bill that would make it much more difficult for landlords to evict tenants. She backs a move toward the public ownership of the local energy system. Gonzalez would also join other DSA members in trying to pass the long-stalled New York Health Act, which would create statewide single-payer health care.
The new state senate seat, carved out in a Democrat-controlled redistricting process that added two districts in New York City, may be tailor-made for someone like Gonzalez, an active DSA member. Greenpoint, Long Island City, and Sunnyside — all neighborhoods filled with left-leaning, financially squeezed professionals willing to vote for socialists — belong to the district, as well as sections of Queens where a leftist city council candidate, Felicia Singh, performed well last year. DSA’s city chapter is stronger than it has ever been and should be able to fundraise aggressively for Gonzalez, as well as offer her many volunteers. The district is quite diverse: at 38 percent Latino, 31 percent white, and 19 percent Asian, no particular group predominates.
Gonzalez will have a serious opponent in the June Democratic primary, though. Elizabeth Crowley, a former city councilmember, has filed to run and is expected to announce her candidacy soon. Crowley is the first cousin of Joe Crowley, the former congressman and Queens Democratic boss who Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated four years ago. Her old district overlapped with the new senate seat, and there are neighborhoods where she will be formidable, including Glendale, still a bastion of conservative white voters.
If the weakened Queens machine has a candidate in the contest, it will be Crowley, but it would be oversimplifying to say that she is a 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 was up against the county organization’s choice, Donovan Richards.
What will make the race a challenge for DSA is that Crowley is probably stronger than the Democrats Salazar and Brisport defeated to win their seats. Her loss to Richards, who is black, was incredibly narrow. And she was willing to demagogue on race and criminal justice reform to turn voters against him, according to Richards. In a blistering statement last year, Richards called Crowley “racist” and claimed the former city council member “repeatedly insinuated that she would have won if not for the death of George Floyd and the ensuing Black Lives Matter movement across our country.”
“She later attempted to bully me into giving her a job within our administration with veiled threats of a divisive and dirty campaign if I did not,” Richards continued. “She clearly followed through on that threat, using the politics of fear throughout this race with mailers disguised as eviction notices and racist dog whistles within her messages on public safety.” (Crowley called the statement “slanderous and untruthful.”)
At the same time, Crowley has been willing to take on issues unpopular with her more conservative constituents. While in the city council, she defended an ultimately successful expansion of bus lanes in her district and fought for the revival of a controversial train line. She also embraced a closure plan of the notorious jail complex on Rikers Island that was initially popular on the Left, though activists eventually turned on it because it called for the construction of new outer borough jails. Within her old right-leaning district, any attempt to close Rikers was reviled.
The good news for DSA is that there is probably more terrain in the district friendly to Gonzalez than Crowley, given the demographic splits and the number of young progressives who were drawn into the seat. A win for DSA would be significant because the senate is a much smaller body than the assembly. Three socialists are the beginnings of a true bloc that can swing legislative votes in the future. This is the goal: electing more and more lawmakers accountable to a socialist organization that is now a genuine force in New York politics.