(Editor’s Note: This is the second in an occasional series examining voting patterns in the recent Democratic Party primary election, which determined the nominee for the 65th Assembly District seat. Each installment in this series will look at a separate Lower Manhattan neighborhood. This installment focuses on the Financial District.)
In the Financial District, according to the State Board of Elections, there are 2,948 residents registered as Democrats and eligible to vote. Of these, 286 turned out for the September 13 primary, which translates into a local participation rate of 9.7 percent.
Oddly, the Financial District has a larger number of registered Democrats than neighboring Battery Park City (with 2,231), but achieved a dramatically lower voter turnout, both in absolute numbers (553 residents showed up at the polls in Battery Park City), and in comparative percentages: the participation rate in Battery Park City was 24.8 percent.
The City’s Board of Elections calculates that there are slightly more than 43,000 registered Democrats in the 65th Assembly district as a whole (a patchwork of communities stretching from the Battery to Vesey Street on the West Side and jigsawing just above Houston Street on the East Side), which means that overall turnout was just over 20 percent.
There were six candidates in the recent campaign to secure the Democratic Party nomination to run in November for the 65th Assembly District seat. The September 13 primary was won by Financial District resident Yuh-Line Niou with 2,790 votes throughout the district. She was followed by Battery Park City resident Jenifer Rajkumar, with 1,701 votes, and Lower East Side resident Paul Newell, who garnered 1,425 votes. The incumbent, Alice Cancel (who also lives on the Lower East Side), took 1,108 votes, while Battery Park City resident Don Lee won 995 votes. Gigi Li, the former chair of Community Board 3, received 844 votes.
At the local level, however, this order of finish was somewhat jumbled. The Financial District is divided into nine local precincts, also called election districts. Of the 286 votes cast in Financial District, Ms. Niou was the winner, with 123 votes (or 43 percent of those cast locally). Second place went to Mr. Newell, with 71 ballots (or 24.8 percent). Ms. Rajkumar placed third, with 50 votes (17.4 percent). She was followed by Ms. Li, with 27 ballots (9.4 percent). Ms. Cancel garnered 10 votes in the Financial District (3.4 percent), while Mr. Lee totaled 5 (1.7 percent).
Although Ms. Niou’s support within the Financial District was stronger than that for any of her opponents, it appears to have been a relatively unimportant component of her overall victory. The 123 votes she garnered represent just 4.4 percent of all the ballots cast for her across the entirety of the 65th Assembly District. This means that 95 percent of all the votes for Ms. Niou came from outside the community in which she lives.
Although he finished second, Mr. Newell actually derived a slightly higher percentage of his overall support from the Financial District than Ms. Niou did: His 71 votes correspond to 4.9 percent of all the votes he won across the whole of the 65th Assembly District. And Ms. Rajkumar’s 50 votes translate into 2.9 percent of all the ballots cast in her favor throughout the 65th catchment. Ms. Li, with just over half of the votes Ms. Rajkumar captured in the Financial District, tallied a comparable percentage: Her local total represents 3.0 percent of all the votes she took throughout the 65th Assembly District. Both Ms. Cancel and Ms. Lee relied on the Financial District for less than one percent of the votes they received overall.
One inference that can be drawn from these numbers is that the Financial District has yet to establish a political identity of its own. Although the neighborhood voiced a clear preference for Ms. Niou in the vote tallies, it did not deliver to any of the candidates, including Ms. Niou, more than five percent of their respective vote totals throughout the 65th Assembly District. For comparison, neighboring Battery Park City delivered to its local winner, Ms. Rajkumar, more than 16 percent of all the votes she would get throughout the 65th Assembly District.
This lack of a clear voice or shared political mindset (both most evident from the low voter turnout in this neighborhood) may discourage future candidates for elective office from thinking of the Financial District as a “base” from which they can launch campaigns and careers, even when (like Ms. Niou) they happen to live within the community. This contrasts sharply with the Grand Street neighborhoods of the Lower East Side, where local political identity cohered several generations ago into a reliable voting block that launched the decades-long career of Sheldon Silver, the former Speaker of the State Assembly, who stepped down at the end of 2015, when he was indicted on federal corruption charges.
Although local leaders have for years predicted that the political center of gravity in Lower Manhattan would eventually shift away from Grand Street, and migrate south and west, toward the new residential centers of the Financial District, Battery Park City, and Tribeca, this evolution may be slowed by the inability of elected officials to regard residents of the canyons surrounding Wall Street as an indispensable constituency. Until (and unless) the community finds it footing politically, it may remain, if not an orphan, then at least a stepchild.
In the meantime, it is Mr. Silver’s former seat that Ms. Niou has won the Democratic Party nomination to run for in the general election, on November 8. In practical terms, however, the heavily “blue” landscape of Lower Manhattan makes the Democratic nod tantamount to winning the wider contest, and usually relegates the actual election to the status of a formality.