The open Democratic primary for New York’s new 10th Congressional District has been as wild and bitter as anticipated, a pile-up of at least six prominent contenders who are desperately vying to represent some of the most prestigious turf in America. The outcome could be a gut punch for progressives, who are currently on the outside looking in as a multimillionaire ex-prosecutor leads the field with only days to go until the August 23 primary.
As is true for most House contests with no viable Republican opposition, the national stakes of the race are somewhat limited. But whoever wins will inevitably become one of the more prominent members of Congress in America, representing wealthy and storied neighborhoods like Brooklyn Heights, Tribeca, Greenwich Village, and Park Slope. New York City Hall sits in the 10th, and many celebrities and millionaire donors are constituents. Dan Goldman, the lawyer who worked on the first impeachment of Donald Trump, has invested several million of his own dollars into the race and far outspent the field, positioning himself as a tough-on-crime moderate who can appeal to national liberals through his work opposing Trump. As a master troll move, Trump endorsed Goldman earlier this week, and his opponents were happy to lash Goldman at the final televised debate over his alleged closeness to the former president. Goldman, a frequent cable TV guest who gets plenty of free coverage that way, has strong anti-Trump bona fides, however, and there’s a reason he is still the polling leader.
Can Goldman be stopped? That’s the operating question for the other five Democrats, especially Mondaire Jones, a sitting congressman, and Yuh-Line Niou, the Working Families Party-backed Manhattan assemblywoman popular with online progressives. Goldman, an heir to the Levi-Strauss fortune, is worth as much as $250 million; Jones and Niou teamed up at a press conference to accuse of him trying to buy the House seat and subvert democracy. It can be argued that he’s doing that—he’s also raised hefty amounts of cash from Wall Street and the real estate industry—but this is a district with lots of wealthy white liberals who are nostalgic for the technocratic paternalism of Michael Bloomberg. Since the billionaire Bloomberg spent far more to get elected three times as mayor, it’s not clear that voters will be moved by this argument. Goldman’s securing the New York Times endorsement—a controversial decision—only makes it harder for his rivals to accuse him of being a shadow conservative.
What is clear is that all the candidates are focused on Goldman, which could damage him in the home stretch. Carlina Rivera, a Manhattan city councilor who has won the endorsements of Nydia Velázquez and 1199SEIU—the health care workers union and the state’s largest union—recently mocked Goldman for flip-flopping on abortion. Rivera has polled near the top of the field. Unlike Jones and Niou, Rivera has attempted to bridge the divide between more progressive and moderate voters, hoovering up donations from the real estate industry and taking pro-development stances.
What there won’t be is any easy consolidation among progressives or left-leaning candidates against Goldman. Niou has polled highest and represents overlapping territory with Rivera’s, but the candidates are close enough in the race that neither has an incentive to leave this late in the game. There’s no ranked-choice voting, making these alliances all the harder to pull off. The biggest loser of the race may be Jones, a popular congressman who moved from Rockland County to Brooklyn after his district was redrawn and he was faced with running against Sean Patrick Maloney, the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Jones has spent millions on television and digital ads but never led the field. Time may be running out for him. Voters could be punishing him for his lack of roots in the district. Despite his strong ties to national progressives, Jones failed to win significant local endorsements, losing out on the WFP to Niou, the Times to Goldman, and Velázquez to Rivera. Unlike former mayor Bill de Blasio, who dropped out of the race in July, Jones long believed he had a path to victory. We will soon find out if that was true.
The biggest question hanging over the race, perhaps, is turnout. Because of redistricting chaos that took place earlier in the year, the August primary date will only feature House and state Senate contests. Many well-heeled New Yorkers are out of town altogether. The progressives are hoping Goldman’s base is too busy in the Hamptons or Vermont to care about a Democratic primary. They may be right—or perhaps Goldman will spend just enough to win. These final days, for the Brooklynites and Manhattanites who care, will be fraught with intrigue.