Covering the state primaries

The first Dominican woman stands to be elected to the state Senate, beating three men to represent Democrats in the district sprawling along western Manhattan. Another Latina defeated an incumbent in a race to the Assembly. And the first gay Assemblyman kept hold of his seat.

Columbia Journalism Students hit the streets of North Manhattan (including Harlem, Washington Heights, Inwood and Morningside Heights) to cover the state primaries of September 13. Of particular note in these elections were the races of State Senate District 31 and Assembly Districts 70 and 72.

On this site, you will find the results of the three contested primaries, coverage of election day and biographies of the candidates from North Manhattan.


O’Donnell remains — Assembly District 69 results

Source: New York State Board of Elections. Credit: Sangsuk Sylvia Kang/The North Polls

By Abigail Morris

Assemblymen Daniel O’Donnell, 55, fended off competition tonight from political newcomer Steven Appel, 31, and held on to his District 69 seat in Albany.

O’Donnell, who has been in office since he was elected in 2002, received 73.3 percent of the vote, according to the New York State Board of Elections.

O’Donnell had not responded to a request to comment by the time of publication.

His competitor Steven Appel received 19.9 percent of the vote. Appel said, “I am deeply grateful to my beloved family and friends for their extraordinary support over the course of this campaign.

“I am very proud of the campaign we ran and I could not have done it without them. I am also honored to have earned the votes of so many members of our community here in the 69th Assembly District. We will continue to fight for a more innovative and unifying politics.”

Almost 6 percent of votes were left blank and of the almost 60,000 active enrolled Democrats in the district, only 9,501 voted in the primary.

O’Donnell will next be on the ballot for the general election on Nov. 8. He will face Republican Stephen Garrin, who ran unopposed in the primaries.

Making History in Manhattan: Marisol Alcantara wins state Senate primary

Source: New York State Board of Elections. Election districts reporting 234 of 235. Credit: Sangsuk Sylvia Kang/The North Polls

By Nafisa Masud

On a quiet Tuesday night in Inwood, as sidewalk squares cool after hours baking in the midday sun, the residents of upper Manhattan dance. But they’re not dancing for the change in temperature — they’ve got bigger things to celebrate. The results of all but one election district touted Marisol Alcantara as the victor of the contested primary race for New York Senate District 31. With this win, she’s become a trailblazer that — if elected in November — stands to be the first female Latina  state senator in New York history.

While the final votes were being counted and local news flashed Alcantara’s growing margin of victory on screens across Manhattan, the Dominican native’s supporters waited patiently outside 809 Sangria Bar & Grill.


They busied themselves with music and warm recollections of the campaign. Marilu Galvan, a long-time friend and advocate, wasn’t just here to dance.

“It’s the people’s right to vote and get involved in the system because it’s the only way to get power. She [Alcantara] represents the whole gamut of the community, and that’s very important for people to understand. She’s prepared to work and protect every single member of the community, and that’s what brings me here.”

Inside the lounge the crowd grew, and applause erupted as Alcantara, dressed in red, finally appeared with Congressman-elect Adriano Espaillat and Democratic Assembly nominee Carmen De La Rosa in tow.


Espaillat introduced the victorious Alcantara, praising her skills as a mother and activist, adding (in Spanish), “She’s also concerned for the most poor, the most needy in this community.”

Alcantara then took the microphone, thanking the state senators there in support, including Jeff Klein (D-34) and David Carlucci (D-38), as well as the members of the several labor unions who endorsed her political run. Alcantara said,”Even though people said ‘Nobody knows her, or where she’s from’, … out of all the people in New York we’re the ones that thought the senate needed a little bit of spice.”

Alcantara then proceeded to thank others, including her running mates Robert Jackson, Micah Lasher and Luis Tejada, and ended the night with a powerful message for both her voters and the next generation. Hear it here:


De La Rosa beats out incumbent for Assembly 72 seat

Source: New York State Board of Elections. Credit: Sangsuk Sylvia Kang/The North Polls

By Emily Churchill, Danielle Prager, Emily Harris and Allana Haynes

Assembly District 72 was always going to be a tough race, with incumbent Democrat Guillermo Linares facing multiple rivalries from within his own party. But the result was relatively unexpected: political newcomer Carmen De La Rosa won the primary on September 13 with 46.2 percent of the vote.

De La Rosa’s win could be traced, in part, to the support of Democratic nominee for U.S. Congress Adriano Espaillat, who is the presumptive replacement for U.S. Congressman Charles Rangel. Espaillat endorsed both De La Rosa and Senate District 31 primary winner Marisol Alcantara after he called 2016 the “year of the woman.”

Espaillat has been dubbed “the kingmaker” by the New York Times, but perhaps after this election he should instead be called the queenmaker.

De La Rosa, 30, was appointed chief of staff to Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez in 2014 and was elected as a Democratic district leader for the 72nd Assembly District the following year. De La Rosa ran on a platform that focused on women’s rights, neighborhood beautification and educational improvement.

This is a difficult defeat for Linares, who held the seat from 2011 until 2013 and won it back in 2014. In 1992, Linares became the first Dominican to hold public office in New York City when he served on the City Council until 2001. Linares received 32.4 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s primary.

Democrat George Fernandez challenged De La Rosa and Linares. Recently introduced to North Manhattan politics, Fernandez served as chairman of Community Board 12 from 2013 to 2015 and is currently the council leader of Division 376 for the Public Employees Federation. He ran on his recovery from his troubled past, as well as his activity in local government and support of affordable housing initiatives. He received 8.2 percent of the primary vote.

Some 13.2 percent of the votes were blank, void or write-ins.

De La Rosa and Fernandez could not be reached to comment. Linares and his campaign manager Angel Audifferd declined to comment.

Four candidates, four campaigners – as diverse as their neighborhood

By Emily Ulbricht and Bimina Ranjit 

With household incomes ranging from less than 9 thousand dollars to more than 1.3 million a year, Senate District 31 is extremely diverse. The southern section encompasses the Garment District and the Upper West Side, with more than eighty percent white residents; in the north, the populations of Washington Heights and Inwood comprise up to eighty five percent Hispanics.

The four Democrats who are running for District 31 State Senator are just as diverse: three men, one woman. Two Dominicans, one African-American, one white Jew. Two are from Hamilton Heights, one from Washington Heights and one from the Upper West Side.

They are all Democrats but their campaigns diverge in terms of specific issues and policy ideas, giving different reasons to support each.

We travelled through District 31, interviewing campaigners for each of the candidates.

The one thing Marisol Alcantara stands out for is… “I’m a youth advocate, so… youth. She’s investing in young people and ensures they have education and opportunities.”

Eddie Silverio, 47, Director of a Youth Center in Washington Heights, for Marisol Alcantara 

“I am known for my bow ties. But today I’ve chosen a special one, in the colors of Marisol.

“I took the day off to campaign today: Primaries elections are the most important election, that’s where your voice is heard. I vote since I’m 18 years old and will vote for the rest of my life. People fought in the 60’s for our right to vote, and I will never forget that.

I know Marisol for 20 years, since she came to the youth center I work at, to volunteer and we’ve worked on several campaigns. I support her, because she brings fresh ideas. We need someone who is not in the system and I think Marisol will bring the twist and make a difference.”


The one thing Micah Lasher stands out for is… “His energy and his devotion to the neighborhood and the causes that are important to New Yorkers.”

Elizabeth Mann (Micah Lasher’s wife), 41, from Upper West Side, for Micah Lasher

“It’s a family business: His mother, his sister, his brother-in-law, we’re all out here today to support him.”

“I’m here since 9 a.m. I dropped the kids at school and came right onto the street to campaign… It’s important to be out here, talk to voters and show that we all do it work. It’s the right moment for Micah: He worked for former Mayor Bloomberg and Attorney General Schneiderman and brings a lot of experience to support progressive causes. Now is the opportunity for Democrats to obtain a majority in the Senate and Micah wants to make it work. If he goes to Albany, it’ll be a challenge for the family, but we’ll make it work.”



The one thing Robert Jackson stands out for is… “He served as city councilman for three terms. He does community service without expecting publicity. He is humble and sincere and does not work for credit.”

Linda Johns, Washington Heights resident campaigning for Robert Jackson

“I would not vote for Lasher because he is for charter schools and Alcantara would caucus with the republicans, I have been supporting Jackson for all these years and I still do.”

“Jackson initiated the lawsuit again the state for inadequate funding in New York Public school, he walked 150 miles to Albany with group of parents to support the lawsuit, after they won the case and sum of 16 billion dollars.  Unfortunately, due to economic crisis the state took a lot of that money back.

If he is in senate there is higher possibility of restoring the funds back to public school.”




The one thing Luis Tejada stands out for is… “He has the experience of the local and knowledge of politician. He has held jobs like being a taxi driver and building super, and now he is in politics.”

Pio Tejada (Tejada’s brother), campaigning at Inwood for Luis Tejada

“He is my brother and I support him for I know he is a deserving candidate, he founded Mirabel Sisters cultural and community center and I work there with him. “

“For last fifteen years Luis Tejada has been working for the tenants rights in this neighborhood, fighting for the poor people harassed by their landlord. He has lots of insights for he has been physically in the community, I think he should be the guy for the state senate, he knows what he is doing.”

Election day with a homemade candidate

What do you do when you have very little money to fund your political campaign?

That’s the dilemma facing Luis Tejada, the activist candidate in the District 31 New York State Senate election. He raised a meager $4,101, when his opponents Marisol Alcantara, Robert Jackson, and Micah Lasher raised $57,140, $11,920, and $453,467 respectively

The North Polls followed him on the morning of the elections to experience Tejada’s homemade campaign.

8 A.M.: setting up sidewalk signs sisnce dawn

Tejada’s been up since 4AM this morning, personally handing sidewalk signs to the handful of volunteers on his campaign and instructing them on what to do. His improvised office on 139th Street & Broadway is the designated storage room for the day. “It’s hard for me because I don’t have the money to pay for a big campaign.” he says. At the same time, he believes that the lack of money also brings more sincerity and integrity to his campaign: “people who do it [campaigning] for free do it for their ideas, but when you pay people, you don’t have commitment.”

8:15-11:30: handling the campaign around District 31

Tejada has a small but dedicated team of volunteer campaign workers ready to get out the vote around the district.  But they need flyers and leaflets. In a homemade campaign, that’s the job of the candidate himself, who makes sure to keep his troops well-supplied.

Tejada (on the left) stops by on 135th and Broadway

Tajeda relies on support from the Hispanic community but is concerned that some of them might not be familiar with the American voting procedure.  Hence part of his volunteers’ job is to hand out flyers with comprehensive instructions on how to cast a ballot.

On election day, every inch of pavement is up for grabs when it comes to campaigning, hence the importance of sidewalk sign placement.

The art of election sign positioning is an exact science, every inch counts! @luistejadanyc #northattan

A video posted by Louis Baudoin-Laarman (@kaplouis) on Sep 13, 2016 at 6:41am PDT

On a quiet street corner of Washington Heights, we pick up Pedro Tejada, a distant relative of Luis, from the same village in the Dominican Republic. Pedro has been handing out flyers for a while but his street corner is not very busy, so we are driving him to a new location a few streets away. “I help him [Luis Tejada] when he needs more people for volunteering.”, says Pedro in Spanish with a chuckle.

Before dropping off Pedro, our car stops at a red light next to a large SUV. Inside, Robert Jackson is sitting in the back, with two drivers in the front, and another car full of campaign members following behind. Our car has room for Tejada,  Pedro, a reporter and the boxes of posers and flyers. From his seat a few feet above us, Jackson greets Tejada: “You have yourself a good day!”

At the Fort Washington Housing Authority, one of the largest polling stations in district 31, several people come out of the both with smiles and shake Tejada’s hand. .

“Did you vote for me?” Tejada asks an elderly lady he recognizes.
She does not reply, and at last her daughter says yes, although one of Alcantara’s flyers is sticking out of the lady’s purse.


Volunteers don’t only need flyers, they need to know that their candidate is there for them. Each time we cross one of their teams, Tejada stops to greet them and boost morale.


11:30: voting, interviews, and printer problems

At 11:30, Tejada is due at his home on Riverside Drive, where two television crews are waiting to film him cast his ballot at the polling station in his building. “457 families live here, he says, I hope they vote for me. Last elections I won this building.”

After the interviews, we make a quick stop by his apartment to print out forms for his volunteers, but the printer is not working. Tejada is not a man who gets easily discouraged however: we return to Hamilton Heights by car without the forms. Tejada continues his campaigning and we part ways.



What to do in a voting machine jam

By Jessie Shi

Grace United Methodist Church at 125 W. 114th St. is one of the polling stations. Credit: Jessie Shi/The North Polls

Four years after The Board of Elections installed a system of electronic voting machines in New York City, there were no major problems reported in the polling districts in northern Manhattan this primary day. 

Workers at the Grace United Methodist polling station dealt with two glitches, the first around 8 a.m. and the other a few hours later. In both cases, the paper ballot that voters feed into the scanning machines jammed.  Election coordinator Alexander E. Medwedew says the jams briefly delayed the voting procedures of around 25 people in total.

Because of the importance of maintaining the integrity of the vote, there are elaborate procedures for fixing a jam, even a simple one.  Here are the instructions from the Basic Poll Worker Manual for what to do when a jam happens:

  1. A bipartisan team open the door of the scanners with the police present
  2. The team check to make sure the flaps are open
  3. The coordinator calls for more seals when finished

If scanner jams remain:

  1. Scanner inspectors tell the coordinator to call the borough office
  2. Scanner inspectors direct voters to other scanners until a technician arrives

If all scanners break down:

  1. Scanner inspectors notify the coordinator immediately
  2. The coordinator calls the borough office
  3. Scanner inspectors wait for the coordinator to tell them to begin the emergency procedures
The Basic Poll Worker Manual gives detailed instructions for all the poll workers on election days. Credit: Jessie Shi/The North Polls

Emergency procedures:

  1. Direct all voters to place their ballots into emergency ballot boxes. There are usually two at each poll station.
  2. If the broken scanners are fixed, inspectors scan all emergency ballots into the scanners
  3. If the broken scanners are not fixed, the coordinator collects all emergency ballots to the Election Day tables for tally


Luckily for the voters at Grace United Methodist, both problems were resolved at the first stage and voting resumed in about five minutes.

To vote or not to vote, that is the primary question


Though primaries in a heavily Democratic city like New York are “the real” voting to some people, others believe there is no point in voting at all.

James Ruiz, 32, was cleaning his car near the PS165 polling site, but not planning to go inside.  “I am a grounded person,” he said. “I care more about family and financing them rather than elections,” he added.

James is currently unemployed, but doesn’t see a solution in politics, “At the end of the day, candidates make decisions that they feel like, not what makes us vote for them.”

Charlie Bernard, 57, is a  Columbia University staff member, who was running errands some blocks away from the polling station. To him, politics means “too many promises and no result.” “I am not going to vote,” he said.

“I don’t believe in politicians, because everybody lies,” he added. He finds politicians to be more “entertaining” than practical. “It makes me laugh… watching politicians exchanging lies on TV,” he said.

After casting her vote in the primary for Assembly District 69, sociology student Adrianna Bagnall, 27, had a different perspective. “Today, it is very important to make sure that we have good people in our parties to put forward, so that we don’t end up with something like what’s going on with the presidential election.”

Watch more pro-voting thoughts here: