Robert Jackson Wins Big Against Incumbent Senator Marisol Alcántara

Former City Councilmember Robert Jackson, joined here by Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, and City Councilmember Ben Kallos, claimed victory in his primary challenge to incumbent State Senator Marisol Alcántara. | Photo by Sydney Pereira

BY SYDNEY PEREIRA | Third time’s the charm for Robert Jackson, the former city councilmember and longtime education activist.

After unsuccessfully seeking the State Senate District 31 seat in 2014 and 2016, Jackson defeated incumbent Senator Marisol Alcántara in Thursday’s Democratic primary. Alcántara was heavily criticized for joining the now-defunct Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) — the group of eight Senate Democrats faulted for effectively handing the Senate to Republican control in recent years, blocking progressive legislation passed in the Assembly.

“The people that are up there that are not doing anything, not fighting — their time is over,” Jackson told Manhattan Express. “The message is if you want to really work for the people that you represent, you’ll have to work hard and sometimes you have to stand up by yourself. And that’s what this is about.”

Jackson’s win against Alcántara was among five successful challenges to city Democratic senators who had been IDC-aligned, with Alessandra Biaggi defeating the Bronx’s Jeff Klein in District 34, former City Comptroller John Liu prevailing against Tony Avella in Queens’ District 11, Jessica Ramos besting José Peralta in the 13th District in Queens, and Zellnor Myrie outdistancing Jesse Hamilton in Brooklyn’s District 20.

Just one New York City former IDC member, Staten Island Senator Diane Savino, won her primary on Thursday, in District 23.

Upstate, the other two former IDC members achieved split verdicts, with Rockland County’s David Carlucci winning his primary but David Valesky apparently going down to defeat in the Syracuse area, based on an unofficial tally.

In past years, IDC members had held off primary challengers, but with progressive activism spiking in the wake of Donald Trump’s election in 2016, the eight senators understood the risk they faced by their continued cooperation with Senate Republicans. In April, in a deal brokered by Governor Andrew Cuomo, the IDC returned to the regular Democratic fold but that retreat proved insufficient to hold off a strong slate of challengers.

In Washington Heights’ Crazy Annie’s on Broadway and 168th St., longtime Jackson supporters rallied early on in the evening watching the returns unfold, chanting “Robert” and “No IDC” after the election was called.

“He relates to people one on one,” said Leslie Espaillat, who worked on Jackson’s campaign and has known him for 26 years.

“He would have never crossed the river and sold us out,” she added, referring to Alcántara’s joining the IDC.

The crowd at Jackson’s victory party at Crazy Annie’s in Washington Heights cheered election returns. | Photo by Sydney Pereira

Alissa Gutierrez, a 41-year-old high school math teacher, said Alcántara joining the IDC was “unconscionable.”

“I could not support that, especially in the political climate today,” said Gutierrez, who supported Jackson in his first run back in 2014.

Roughly 38 percent of voters in District 31 stuck with Alcántara — some noting that her Dominican roots best represented the needs of a district that runs up the West Side from Hell’s Kitchen to Inwood.

“I think that we have somebody to represent us,” Estela Pichardo, a 48-year-old elementary school teacher who has lived in Washington Heights for 33 years.

Of Alcántara, Pichardo said she’s “giving her the benefit of the doubt that she’s going to keep doing her job.”

Two sisters in their 20s echoed that sentiment.

“She’s Dominican and we’re Dominican,” said Kiara, 25, who declined to use her last name. Having someone like Alcántara represent the neighborhood was key in the face of growing gentrification, she added. Her sister, Karol, agreed.

Alcántara’s campaign did not respond, by press time, to a request for comment about the election results and any future runs for office.

Late last month, she highlighted the $7 million she brought back to her district and the 12 bills she wrote and passed. Of the IDC, she said, “I don’t know what to tell people. If it’s dissolved, it’s dissolved. What else can I do?”

With five of the six New York City former IDC members voted out, state legislators supporting Jackson feel confident that progressive legislation — such as better rent laws and reproductive rights protections — can pass the Senate.

“To me it means that so many of the bills that have been passing in the Assembly but have never had a shot in the Senate will now become law,” said Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, who represents the Upper West Side and Hell’s Kitchen. “That’s very optimistic, but I am optimistic because the voters are demanding change in all districts. On state level races, voters are demanding change.”

Still, to regain control of the Senate, Democrats will have to either pick up at least one additional seat in November or prevail on Brooklyn Democrat Simcha Felder, who has caucused with the Republicans, separate from the IDC, since his election in 2012, to vote with them. In the current Senate, Democrats hold 32 of the 63 seats, but without Felder’s support they could not claim the leadership, even after the eight IDC members disbanded their conference.

Rosenthal is confident the Democrats will gain more seats come the general election.

“I think that we will pick up seats in the Senate in November,” she said. “You can see the voters are anxious for change… I’m very hopeful that the Senate will turn Democratic and then we can be a legislature that truly reflects New York’s population and New York’s progressive views.”

The last contest between Alcántara and Jackson, who served in the Council from 2001 through 2013, was a tight race. Jackson lost by just 533 votes with 30 percent of the electorate. Micah Lasher took 31 percent of the votes, and Alcántara 32 percent.

Lasher endorsed Jackson for this year’s run, both agreeing that to take back the seat from Alcántara, one would have to support the other.

“Let me say publicly to Micah that this was not about you and it’s not about me,” Jackson told supporters on Thursday night. “It’s about the people that we were fighting to represent.”

Lasher, now head of communications and policy at Sidewalk Labs, an urban solutions company owned by Google’s parent company, said that two years ago he had known of Jackson’s record but was not acquainted with him personally.

“You get to know somebody during a campaign, even when you’re running against them,” Lasher said. “I really came to understand why he had so much love and support in this community because he is a high integrity guy. When the campaign was over, I came away with enormous respect and affection for him and understanding what a difference it would make to get him elected over the incumbent. I was proud to tell him from the start I wanted to be with him.”

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