After nearly three years of running, former teacher Eric Dinowitz will succeed Andrew Cohen on the city council. At least until the end of this year.
Dinowitz won the March 23 special election with 58 percent of the vote once all of the ranked-choice counting and elimination was completed Tuesday. Spuyten Duyvil non-profit executive Mino Lora finished second with 33 percent.
Dinowitz takes office immediately, serving out the remainder of the term for Cohen, who was elected to the Bronx Supreme Court last year. Soon after the final results were revealed, the Bronx’s newest councilman says he’s feeling good about the election results.
“We ran a very positive, future-facing campaign,” Dinowitz said. “We talked about the recovery of the Bronx and (the) needs of the people of our community, and I think that spoke to people.”
U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres — one of Dinowitz’s most prominent backers — congratulated the new councilman on Twitter Monday night after The Riverdale Press called the election in his favor.
“Congratulations,” tweeted Torres, whose elevation to Congress opened up a special election for his own city council seat on the eastern side of the Bronx. “Looking forward to working with you in your new role.”
Dinowitz crossed the 50 percent threshold while there were still three candidates in the race that included himself, Lora and Fieldston environmental activist Jessica Haller, the last to be eliminated.
Lora was the only candidate with any real chance of overcoming Dinowitz’s seemingly insurmountable lead after live and early ballots were counted March 23. But even then, that chance was fleeting, as she would have to rank higher on a significantly large percentage of the remaining votes from candidates who were ultimately eliminated from the tally.
But any chance of Lora going to City Hall became all but impossible once absentee votes were counted Sunday. Dinowitz picked up 1,400 — or 57 percent — of the 2,500 absentee ballots. Meanwhile, Lora only added 350 votes to her tally, giving her 22 percent of first round votes, pale in comparison to Dinowitz’s 46 percent.
At that point, the only way Lora could’ve overtaken Dinowitz was by outranking him on more than 2,600 of the remaining ballots to be counted through ranked-choice, while Dinowitz needed only 375.
The ranked-choice voting process eliminates the lowest vote-getter and redistributes their votes to the candidates ranked lower on their ballots. This process continues until there are two candidates left and one of them has more than 50 percent of the vote.
Lora is now focused on the June 22 Democratic primary, which will ultimately decide who fills the council seat for the next two years starting in January. Many expect the primary to have a higher turnout than the barely 10 percent of registered district voters who came out for the special, and if that does happen, Lora likes her chances.
“A lot more people will vote in the primary,” Lora told The Press after election night. “And that’s great news because we felt, we saw, that night in the results that people are excited for an actual progressive candidate. For a grassroots candidate that represents the working families of our district.
“More people will get to see that, and more people will get out to vote for that.”
A news release from the Dinowitz campaign Tuesday claimed the March 23 turnout was higher than in any other special election across the city over the past decade, and also higher than the 2014, 2017 and 2019 Democratic primaries. The campaign cited those figures claiming Dinowitz built a “broad and diverse majority” despite the fact that only 1-in-10 voters actually cast a ballot.
What the Dinowitz campaign didn’t compare these numbers to was the last time this seat was contested — in 2013 when the battle between Cohen and environmental activist Cliff Stanton turned out more than 20 percent of the council district’s Democrats — a rate more than double this particular special election.
Disappointed in her third-place showing, Haller is not convinced Dinowitz is the right person for the job.
“I hope that he represents the northwest Bronx fairly,” Haller said. “I also hope that he takes equity, resilience and sustainability into account in everything he does. I’m not quite certain if he’ll be able to do that.”
Dinowitz — son of Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz — was backed by the Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club, which many say has strong ties to the Bronx Democratic Party machine. Haller said Dinowitz’s win is a setback in the movement to oust office holders backed by the machine, which started gaining real momentum when Alessandra Biaggi ousted Jeffrey Klein from the state senate in 2018, and continued last year with Jamaal Bowman’s upset win over longtime congressman Eliot Engel.
However, Haller said, the outcome of those races was more about the candidates themselves than the diminishing power of the machine.
“We got rid of the guy who was the head of the Independent Democratic Conference, right?” Haller said. The congressional race “was particularly about Engel and about Bowman themselves. We have moved into a moment where it’s like the tentacles of the machine. It’s not the heart of the machine itself.”
It was real estate attorney Dan Padernacht’s votes that put Dinowitz over the finish line, ironically Padernacht was the first candidate to jump into the primary race in 2018 a few days ahead of Dinowitz. The former teacher got more than 400 of Padernacht’s votes, while he only needed 280 to overtake Lora and Haller. The rest of Padernacht’s votes were split between Lora and Haller, while a remaining quarter ranked no other candidates below him that were still running.
Coming out of the special, Padernacht says he sees areas his election efforts can improve for the primary.
“Our campaign held back a little too much, particularly in challenging other candidates on issues,” Padernacht said, in a statement. “Our team is shifting strategies, and we are confident that the Democratic primary will have a different result.”
Padernacht and all of the other candidates with the exception of Haller and retired New York Police Department detective Carlton Berkley have confirmed they’re running in the primary. They’ll be joined by social worker Abigail Martin and community activist Marcos Sierra.
Dinowitz’s campaign strategy for the primary will be very similar to the special, he said. Plus, he will be the incumbent.
“As a councilmember, I’m going to work as hard for those who voted for me as those who voted against me,” Dinowitz said. “I’m going to be a councilmember for every single person in the district.”
Additional reporting by Michael Hinman.