Bay Ridge

Tong enters crowded field in Bay Ridge council race

January 30, 2017 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Nancy Tong, the Democratic district leader of the 47th Assembly District, has become the latest candidate in the race to succeed Councilmember Vincent Gentile. Eagle file photo by Paula Katinas

The race to succeed Councilmember Vincent Gentile is becoming more crowded by the day. In the latest development, Nancy Tong, the Democratic district leader in the 47th Assembly District (AD), threw her hat into the ring.

Gentile, who has represented the 43rd Council District (Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) since 2003, cannot run for re-election this year because of New York City’s term limits law.

Tong, who is the first Asian-American to be a Democratic district leader in Brooklyn, is the protégé of William Colton, the Democratic assemblymember who represents the 47th AD. Tong is also a close ally of Councilmember Mark Treyger, who represents the council district next door to Gentile’s. Treyger’s district covers Coney Island and Gravesend and includes parts of Bensonhurst.

The 47th AD, which covers Gravesend, also includes parts of Bensonhurst, giving Tong an opening to run for the council seat this November.

But she will have plenty of company in a Democratic primary.

Assemblymember Peter Abbate (D-Bensonhurst, Dyker Heights, Sunset Park) who has been in office since 1986, recently confirmed to the New York Observer that he is taking a look at the council seat. The Rev. Khader El-Yateem, a Palestinian who is the pastor of the Salam Arabic Lutheran Church, is rumored to be considering running for the seat. So is Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab-American Association of New York.

Another Democrat on the list is Justin Brannan, Gentile’s former communication director, who quit his job late last year as a special assistant to Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña so he could run.

Brannan has raised over $57,000 to date for his campaign and announced that with matching funds from the city’s campaign finance program, he would have an impressive $157,000 to spend on the council race.

The Republicans whose names have been mentioned for the council seat are Bob Capano, who served as director of community boards for former borough president Marty Markowitz; John Quaglione, deputy chief of staff to state Sen. Marty Golden; and Liam McCabe, an aide to U.S. Rep. Dan Donovan.

Tong first captured the district leadership post in 2014 with the support of Colton, Treyger and the United Progressive Democratic Club in Bensonhurst.

District leaders are grass-roots political party officials who perform the nuts and bolts work of politics, taking on tasks like recruiting candidates to run for office, gathering petition signatures to get candidates on the ballot and working phone banks to call voters on behalf of candidates. There is a female and male district leader in each of the major political parties in each assembly district in New York. The district leaders are also members of the state committees in their political parties.

Tong was born in Hong Kong and grew up in New York City. She is fluent in English, Mandarin and Cantonese.

Tong, who has lived in Bensonhurst for 12 years, got her start in public life by volunteering in her son Albert’s school. She later became a volunteer in Colton’s district office on Kings Highway. Impressed by her dedication and work ethic, Colton hired her for a part-time position as a constituent liaison in his office.

“I truly enjoy helping people,” Tong told the Brooklyn Eagle shortly after she was elected district leader in 2014. “It gives me great joy when I am able to help someone and make their life a little better or easier.”

Colton said he is proud of his protégé. “Nancy has a long track record of serving people in our communities. She helps thousands of people in my office every year. Her dedication to our community is unwavering,” he told the Eagle.