With the first Muslim woman, the first South Asian members, the first openly gay Black woman, seven foreign-born New Yorkers, and more women and people of color poised to be elected than ever before, the next New York City Council is on track to be the most diverse and the most left-leaning in the city’s history.
Among the record-breaking statistics of this incoming class, women members are expected to outnumber men on the Council, likely holding at least 28 of the 51 seats. In contrast, there currently are 14 women council members. Given that all of the current women candidates are Democrats who as a whole vastly outnumber Republicans, they’re all but guaranteed to win the November general election, with one seat in Harlem remaining a toss-up between incumbent Bill Perkins and challenger Kristin Richardson Jordan.
“To have all those firsts happening,” said Yvette Buckner, the vice chair of 21 in ‘21, a group founded to elect more women to the New York City Council. “It’s goosebump-worthy.”
She and a host of other advocates who worked to elect a more diverse Council told Gothamist/WNYC that they hoped a more representative legislative body would mean more attention and money for New Yorkers who previously felt shut out of politics.
“In NYC the results are dramatic with a wholesale women-led overhaul of the power structure of the City Council.,” said Sonia Ossorio, executive director of NOW-NYC, who cited the Covid-19 pandemic that disproportionally harmed women and communities of color. “The surge in women of color running for office and going on to win is historic. This is transformational change at its core.”
At least seven incoming members are foreign-born New Yorkers, hailing from countries including Belarus, Haiti, Panama, and Korea, up from four foreign-born members currently serving in the Council.
Fifteen likely new members are of Latino or Afro-Latino descent, up from 11 on the current Council. Fourteen pending members are Black, up from 13 currently. Just two current Council members are of Asian descent — Margaret Chin and Peter Koo — while the next Council likely will have six Asian American members, including the first three of South Asian descent. Shahana Hanif, whose parents immigrated to Brooklyn from Bangladesh, is poised to become the first Muslim woman elected to the Council.
Overall, around 35 incoming members identify as people of color, up from 26 in the current Council. For advocates, the new Council more accurately reflects the city’s demographics, where statistics show it to be home to 29% Hispanic, 32% white, and 22% Black. Asians make up 13% of the population, according to census figures.
“The history these candidates are making would not be possible without our city’s matching-fund program which allowed a large crop of working women of color to bypass the political establishment and actually win,” said Murad Awawdeh, the executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, referencing the city’s robust campaign finance program which supported many candidates who might not have been able to raise the money otherwise needed to campaign in New York City.
Young activist Chi Ossé, who entered the race after leading marches against police brutality and in favor of divesting funds from the NYPD last summer, beat out the Democratic Party establishment’s pick to succeed Councilmember Robert Cornegy Jr. in representing Bedford Stuyvesant and Crown Heights in Brooklyn.
Haitian-born Mercedes Narcisse won in the South Brooklyn district that covers Canarsie, Bergen Beach, Georgetown, Marine Park, Mill Basin, and Gerritson Beach, the first person of color to hold the position.
Jessica Haller, the executive director of 21 in ‘21, credited a combination of ranked-choice voting, the city’s matching funds program, and the robust network of groups gunning for more representation in local politics.
“These are the ingredients to the secret sauce to what got us to where we are today,” she said. Term limits also helped, as two-thirds of the current City Council members had reached their two-term limit and could not run for re-election.
Though moderate candidate Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams won the Democratic nomination for mayor, the progressive left made some inroads in the next Council if not as broad a political sweep as some members wanted.
The Working Families Party, which had working relationships with five sitting Council members endorsed a slate of 30 candidates. Of the WFP’s picks, 14 were primed to win, nearly tripling the party’s foothold.
“The next City Council will give voice to the Black, brown, immigrant and low-income New Yorkers who make our city run,” said Sochie Nnaemeka, director of the New York chapter of the WFP, adding the new members will, “ensure that our city government delivers for working-class communities, not Wall Street billionaires.”
Even further to the left, the Democratic Socialists of America had endorsed six candidates and managed to claim victory in two of those races: public defender Tiffany Cabán won easily in Astoria, Queens, and education activist and organizer Alexa Avilés secured a seat representing the area around Sunset Park in Brooklyn. City Charter rules would allow Cabán to immediately take the seat after the November general election is certified since the prior seat-holder, Costa Constantinides, resigned three months shy of the primary.
Rob Richie, the head of FairVote, an organization that advocates for ranked-choice voting across the country, said he believes the new voting system delivered on its promise to help more women and candidates of color win elected office.
“There was no one saying, ‘you’re going to split the vote, you shouldn’t do it,’ and some of them obviously turned out to be very strong candidates,” he said.
Brigid Bergin contributed reporting.