Who says the Republican Party is dead in New York City?
While it wasn’t exactly a red wave that swept over the city, the GOP did make surprising gains in the City Council.
The party was able to hold on to three seats – two on Staten Island and one in Queens – as well as pick up a vacant seat in south Brooklyn.
In Queens, Joann Ariola, who chairs the Queens County Republican Party, cruised to an easy victory over Felicia Singh, replacing the only Republican elected official left in the borough in Eric Ulrich, who is term-limited out of office at the end of the year.
In Brooklyn, Republican candidate Inna Vernikov also had an easy win in the race for the City Council seat left open by Chaim Deutsch, who resigned earlier this year when he was convicted of tax fraud.
The GOP also has a chance to pick up two more seats. In northeast Queens, Vickie Paladino holds a lead over Tony Avella, a surprising outcome given Avella’s name recognition as a former councilman and state senator representing the district. Paladino has never held elected office.
There are still absentee ballots being counted, but Paladino currently holds 49 percent of the vote to Avella’s 42 percent. Avella will need to make up over 1,600 votes to regain his former seat.
In another south Brooklyn district, Justin Brannan is trailing Republican challenger Brian Fox, although Brannan is confident that the absentee ballots will swing the race in his favor, posting on Twitter on Monday night that of the ballots returned, nearly 1,400 were from Democrats or registered Working Families Party voters to just 280 Republican ballots.
While the increase in Republican seats won’t necessarily result in major legislative changes – Democrats still far outnumber Republicans in the City Council – it could have an impact on who becomes the next speaker of the legislative body.
City Council members vote for speaker in a secretive process, but it’s a not-so-well-kept secret that it’s really the Democratic Party leaders in each borough who engage in intense political horse-trading to decide how their members will vote.
If a party leader thinks they have enough votes to get one of their own elected, which usually means striking a deal with a party leader from another borough to ensure one they have enough votes, they will go for it.
But if they think they will fall short, often they will strike a deal with the party leader from the borough with the frontrunner and deliver them the necessary votes to win.
Why would they do that, you might ask?
In exchange for the votes, the party leader makes sure their City Council members get appointed by the new speaker as the chairs of powerful committees, like Land Use and Finance, to ensure the borough has a strong voice in the decision-making process on important matter before the council.
In the past, Republicans were generally excluded from this backroom wrangling because the slim number of votes they held didn’t really factor in to the overall tally.
But with a total of 51 seats, if the GOP were able to hold six votes, candidates looking to fill the spot left by Corey Johnson would have to at least make some overtures to the Republicans.
Factor in that it’s not inconceivable that conservative Democrats like Councilman Kalman Yeger of Borough Park and Councilman Robert Holden of Middle Village – who while a registered Democrat actually won his seat running on the Republican line – could be persuaded to join the Republican bloc to influence the race, the GOP could conceivably have eight votes on their side.
In addition, the two major players in every speaker’s race are the Brooklyn and Queens Democratic parties, simply because those borough’s have the most City Council members, and therefore the most votes to package.
Given that those boroughs are the two that stand to lose seats to the GOP, that diminishes the influence those party leaders and their council members have in deciding the next speaker.
The current frontrunners for speaker include Councilman Francisco Moya of Queens, Keith Power from the Upper East Side and Carlina Rivera from the East Village.
Brannan was also considered a strong candidate, but the difficulties he is having just getting reelected is sure to hurt his candidacy. It’s doubtful that many will get behind him even if he does pull out a win.
So while the Republicans might not gain much in the way of legislative power even with their wins, they will likely play at least some role in shaping the leadership of the City Council, and hence the direction it will take over the next few years as a new mayor comes into office.