Going into Tuesday’s election, Republicans hoped to expand their presence on the New York City Council while Democrats hoped to regain territory lost in 2021. With 45 Democrats and 6 Republicans on the 51-member City Council, and a handful of competitive districts, both parties had room to gain.
The result of election, though, was a mixed bag for both sides. While Democrats succeeded in stunting Republican efforts in Brooklyn and Queens, a historic flip in the Bronx will leave the balance of power unchanged. One thing is for sure: the 2023 New York City Council elections weren’t boring.
A stunner in the Bronx
The most shocking result of the night came in the Bronx’s 13th district. This district contains Allerton, City Island, Morris Park, Pelham Parkway, and Throggs Neck. A racially diverse seat where only 32% of residents are White, and it voted for Joe Biden by 35 percentage points. Downballot, however, it’s more competitive; it voted for Republican Curtis Silwa by two points in the 2021 mayoral race, and for Democrat Kathy Hochul by seven points in the 2022 gubernatorial race.
Incumbent Marjorie Velázquez, a first-term Democrat and a progressive, lost to Republican Kristy Marmorato by six percentage points. According to the Bronx Times, she is the first Republican to win public office in the borough since 2004; according to RRH Elections, she’s the first city councilor elected from the borough since 1981. With her victory, Republicans will now hold at least one city councilor in every borough except for Manhattan.
Republicans display surprising strength in Manhattan’s Chinatown
To say Republicans came close to carrying any seats in Manhattan would be an exaggeration. However, they performed surprisingly well in two districts. In the Upper East Side’s “silk stocking” 4th district – the most historically Republican part of the borough – Republican Brian Robinson secured 26% of the vote, on par with Republican performances in 2021 and 2022.
More interesting was the 1st district – which stretches from the Financial District to SoHo and from Tribeca to the Lower East Side – Republican Helen Qiu secured over 31% of the vote. This seat contains all of Manhattan’s Chinatown neighborhood, and nearly a third of the district’s residents are Asian. While 31% isn’t a lot, it’s a far stronger performance than Silwa (21%) or Zeldin (24%) were able to win, and it’s more than double what Donald Trump received in the seat. Republicans have steadily increased their vote share in this district in the last few elections (they received 9% of the vote in 2017 and 15% in 2021), in large part due to favorable trends among Asian voters.
Democrats win two competitive Brooklyn seats
In Brooklyn, Democrats managed to win two competitive districts. In the open 43rd district, Democrat Susan Zhang cruised to a victory with 59% of the vote. Zhang, a moderate Democrat and protege of state assemblyman Bill Colton, was one of the Democratic bright spots. With a less credible candidate, this district – which backed Silwa by 24 points and Zeldin by 23 – might well have flipped. As it stands, Zhang will likely be one of more conservative Democrats on the City Council.
In the incumbent vs. incumbent race in the 47th district, Democrat Justin Brannon cruised to a nearly 17-point win over party-switching ex-Democrat Ari Kagan. This district backed Eric Adams and Hochul, making it one of the tougher Republican holds on paper. It is also part of a clear trend: outside of Inna Vernikov’s 48th district, Republicans have had difficulty translating gains in South Brooklyn into long-term holds.
One other note: in the 44th district, incumbent Democrat Kalman Yegar won more votes on the Republican and Conservative lines (50.6%) than on the Democratic line (29.5%). Kegar is one of two conservative Democrats (along with Queens councilman Robert Holden) that maintain support across party lines.
Republicans hold only contested seat in Queens
In Queens, Republicans easily held their lone contested seat in the borough. Democrats hoped that a credible candidate, combined with first-termer Vickie Paladino’s controversial reputation, would be enough to make the 19th district (Cay Terrace, College Point, and Whitestone) competitive. Instead, Paladino won by a whopping 20-point margin, slightly more than Zeldin’s 14-point win here.
In the majority-Asian 20th district – a seat we thought might be competitive – incumbent Democrat Sandra Ung easily won re-election with 58% of the vote.