Brooklyn Boro

Lander Leads City Comptroller Race as Williams Heads Toward Public Advocate Win

June 25, 2021 By Yoav Gonen THE CITY
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Public Advocate Jumaane Williams last week clinched an easy Democratic primary victory, according to news reports. But the race for the other big citywide job that’s not mayor — comptroller — remained mired in uncertainty.

City Council member Brad Lander emerged with the highest number of initial first-place votes under the new ranked choice voting system, followed by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

Former CNBC contributor Michelle Caruso-Cabrera notched the third-highest first-round tally.

Unofficial State Board of Election tallies of first-slot votes — out of up to five on ranked-choice ballots — showed Lander at roughly 31 percent, Johnson at about 23 percent and Caruso-Cabrera near 14 percent with more than 80 percent of ballots counted as of early Wednesday.

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Councilmember Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn) gathered signatures in Downtown Brooklyn to get on the ballot in the comptroller’s race, March 2, 2021. 
Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The tally does not include absentee ballots. As with the mayoral race and other competitive contests, it will be weeks before the winners of many primaries will be finalized. That’s primarily because all absentee ballots must be received before a full ranked-choice count can be performed.

The comptroller’s race featured 10 Democratic candidates, two Campaign Finance Board debates and $18 million in public matching funds — but it was persistently overshadowed by the race for mayor.

Still, it had some scene-grabbing moments.

Johnson Drops Out and In

In early March, Johnson made an unexpected announcement that he was joining the contest — after dropping out of the mayor’s race in September 2020, saying he was grappling with depression.

Johnson’s entry into the low-key contest instantly vaulted him to the front of the pack as the lone official with citywide impact and the name recognition that goes with it.

Later that month, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Queens/Bronx) brought a second dose of attention to the race by endorsing City Councilmember Brad Lander — but polls that followed still showed a high percentage of voters undecided.

On June 8, Lander got an additional boost when The New York Times editorial board endorsed him — on the same day that a NY1/Ipsos poll found 44% of voters still undecided.

There was no Republican primary in the comptroller’s race. The Nov. 2 general election will feature the winner of the Democratic primary, Republican Daby Carreras — a private wealth manager who has run for public office twice in recent years — and Conservative line candidate Paul Rodriguez.

The comptroller is responsible for stewarding the city’s finances, including overseeing pension funds, signing off on city contracts and auditing the spending and services of city agencies.

A Lack of Attention

State Sen. John Liu, who served as comptroller from 2010 to 2013, said it was natural for the top of the ticket to drown out the other contests.

“The comptroller’s race did get some attention from the media, but it would have been nice to have more media coverage given the thrust of the office,” he told THE CITY.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson campaigns for comptroller in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, June 14, 2021
Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

He added that the lack of focus on the race wasn’t because voters failed to understand the importance of the office, “but more so that the mayoral election was happening with far more candidates than anybody can remember in recent times.”

Chris Chambers, a public relations worker who lives in Brooklyn Heights, agreed that the number of candidates made the whole election season “a little challenging” this year.

But he said it was on voters to realize that often local elections play a bigger role in their lives than do national elections — where turnout is typically much higher.

“We have to make it a point to educate ourselves in the areas we’re not totally versed in,” said Chambers, 50, after voting at a poll site inside Brooklyn Borough Hall.

Williams in Strong Position

In the public advocate’s race, Williams faced two candidates who were not particularly well-funded: Total fundraising by all candidates in that race was just over $330,000.

Williams has served in the official watchdog role since 2019, when the then-Brooklyn City Council member won a special election to replace Letitia James after she left the office to serve as state attorney general.

There were no Campaign Finance Board debates and no public matching funds were issued to any candidates in this Democratic primary. There was no Republican primary for this office.

Late Tuesday, Williams topped 70 percent of the initial first-place votes, with more than 634,000 votes counted.

With his win, Williams will face Republican Devi Nampiaparampil, a physician and professor at the NYU School of Medicine in November, as well as Anthony Herbert on the Conservative Party line.

Herbert, a longtime anti-violence advocate and government staffer, was also one of the candidates in the Democratic primary to challenge Williams. By late Tuesday, he had garnered roughly 21 percent of the initial first-place votes.

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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