Photos were supplied respectively by the offices of Zellnor Myrie and Sen. Jesse Hamilton
By Dvorah Nelson
With primary voting occurring all over the city on Thursday, a palpable energy could be felt in the neighborhood of Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Fliers hung on home fronts and on store fronts. People stood on street corners with pamphlets asking passersby to vote. Most important of all – there was a constant flux of voters in and out of the over fifteen polling places in the neighborhood’s state senate district. More than at any other time in recent local history, voters went strongly against an incumbent and in unison stated that they want one of their own to be their elected official.
“Tonight we made history,” said the spokesperson for challenger Zellnor Myrie, who defeated incumbent Senator Jesse Hamilton. Hamilton was once a member of the so-called Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) that in recent years caucused with Republican senators in Albany, angering progressives who began surging in influence in the current Donald Trump era.
“Together we defeated the IDC. We defeated regressive politics, and we set the stage for a progressive majority to take control (of the country) in November,” the spokesperson added.
One Democratic political adviser in Brooklyn called Thursday’s developments a city-wide “wave” of opposition against the Democratic status quo.
Senator Hamilton represents Senate District 20, which includes parts of Park Slope, Gowanus and East Flatbush. Hamilton’s office sits above a medical clinic, in a building that faces Medgar Evers College on the busy Bedford Avenue. Just down the road, his opponent, the newcomer Zellnor Myrie, has his office.
With many New Yorkers calling for the uprooting of incumbents and all those who have cooperated with Republicans, Myrie may have a chance to follow the path of those like Alexandria Cortez-Ocasio, who is trying to get a new coterie of progressive newcomers to take on roles in New York, and U.S., government.
While many voters on Thursday were reluctant to openly discuss who their favorite candidates were, the polling places were busy. There was barely any space for parking and there was a steady stream of confident, excited voters at many Crown Heights locations.
Some residents, like Andrea Godbout, were particularly excited about Myrie. “He’s standing for a more progressive stance than Jesse Hamilton is,” she said on her way to her voting place.
The need to take action against members of the now-defunct IDC was a strong part of Myrie’s campaign, as was the case with half a dozen other challengers of ex-IDC senators in the city. A spokesperson for Myrie early Thursday seemed confidant, as he noted the energy in the community. “The message of anti-IDC candidates that’s going to fight for progressive values will reflect what we see” when Myrie is declared the victory on Thursday night, the spokesman confidently said.
Still some voters stood behind Hamilton. Mica Soffer, publisher of an online Hasidic Newspaper called Hamilton “a longtime friend to the Crown Heights community, who stood up against anti-Semitism and hate crimes.” She praised Hamilton’s support of Israel, his opposition to the Iran Deal and his assistance to Crown Heights residents.
A staunch contrast could be seen Thursday in the respective offices of Hamilton and Myrie. While Hamilton’s offices remained empty, the door shut, the well decorated walls and plush chairs dimly lit by a single light, Myrie’s office was bustling: Volunteers sat at tables in Myrie’s office, folding chairs against the walls, making phone calls and coming in and out collecting pamphlets to hand out on the streets outside. It was a palpable excitement that contrasted with the cold and quiet emptiness at Hamilton’s office.
Despite various attempts, Senator Hamilton could not be reached for comment.