Divide and Conquer: Manhattan DA’s Race Fractured Field Could Dash Progressive Hopes

Tali Farhadian Weinstein, the favored candidate of Manhattan elites, has the edge in a race that features three decarceral opponents and no ranked choice voting.

Theodore Hamm Mar 20, 2021

Tali Farhadian Weinstein

As the race for Manhattan DA takes off, many criminal justice activists fear that Tali Farhadian Weinstein, the candidate most similar to incumbent Cy Vance, may emerge victorious in the crowded race.

“Progressives need to coalesce against a billionaire [Farhadian Weinstein] so there’s no continuation of Vance’s legacy of discriminatory prosecution against people of color and in favor of the wealthy,” says Tahanie Aboushi’s campaign manager Jamarah Hayner, who recently handled George Gascón successful left-wing run to become Los Angeles district attorney.

Farhadian Weinstein’s media team answers to Stu Loeser, former press secretary for Michael Bloomberg.

In recent weeks, Aboushi, one of three decarceral candidates (along with Eliza Orlins and Dan Quart), has picked up high-profile endorsements, including from the Working Families Party, Jumaane Williams, Cynthia Nixon, and Yuh-Line Niou. How many votes such support will yield remains to be seen.

Tahanie Aboushi

Several campaigns tell the Indypendent that the winner in the June 22 Democratic primary will need approximately 70,000 votes. Because the district attorney is a state office, the ranked-choice voting process currently being rolled out in NYC elections does not apply in the race.

Farhadian Weinstein, the leading fundraiser (with over $2.25 million), has a base of support among the city elite. Her campaign’s media team* answers to Stu Loeser, former press secretary for Michael Bloomberg, the figure most responsible for Vance’s ascent in 2009.

Alvin Bragg

Alvin Bragg, the former chief deputy attorney general of New York State now running as a reformer, has the clearest traction thus far among the left-of-center candidates. As of the January campaign finance filing, Bragg has the most individual donors (nearly 2,000) from Manhattan of the eight candidates (Orlins is second, with roughly 1,300). In addition to his support from Black leadership in Harlem, where he grew up and still lives, Bragg has been endorsed by nine Democratic clubs, a reliable source of Manhattan votes.

Dan Quart

Dan Quart, a five-term Assemblymember who represents the Upper East Side, is backed by six clubs, and he has the support of several Latinx elected officials representing Upper Manhattan, including Jose Serrano, Carmen de la Rosa, Robert Rodriguez and Diana Ayala. Votes from Washington Heights (where Quart was raised) through Inwood could play a pivotal role in the race.

In the 2018 primary for Attorney General, Zephyr Teachout defeated Letitia James in Manhattan by 20,000 votes (105,000-85,000). Both candidates carried stretches of Washington Heights and Inwood, trouncing centrist Sean P. Maloney. Running as the “anti-Teachout,” Maloney collected 42,000 votes, largely in Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen.

Eliza Orlins

Eliza Orlins, a longtime Chelsea resident, views her campaign as playing well with LGBT voters in the area. Her pre-public defender career in the entertainment industry likely will appeal to many West Village and Tribeca residents. While Orlins has the backing of the Downtown Independent Democrats, the Chelsea Reform Dems are backing Quart and the Village Independent Dems are supporting Bragg.

Aboushi’s strategy is to pick up swaths of votes across Manhattan, starting with younger Black as well as Muslim residents of Harlem, where she lives. Yuh-Line Niou will help rally support in Chinatown and Jumaane Williams will bring out NYCHA residents downtown and elsewhere. Like all the contenders, Aboushi hopes to grab a solid chunk of support on the Upper West Side through Morningside Heights.

Aboushi’s edge in institutional endorsements appears to be the handiwork of her consultant Camille Rivera, co-founder of New Deal Strategies. As Jeff Coltin of City & State reported, the Manhattan chapter of the Working Families Party voted to endorse Orlins, only to be overruled by higher-ups. Insiders tell the Indypendent that Rivera’s husband Jonathan Westin of NY Communities for Change, a leading organization within the WFP, was pivotal.

Rivera’s close ties to city labor leaders likely helped influence the decision of the executive committee of DC 37, the large union representing city government workers, to back Aboushi, a civil rights attorney. At the same time, the union’s leadership endorsed Eric Adams for mayor—an odd combination of left and center-right picks.

Tahanie Aboushi’s edge in institutional endorsements appears to be the handiwork of her consultant Camille Rivera, co-founder of New Deal Strategies. 

In the DC 37 selection process, Orlins was again slighted. Despite being the only active union member in the race (Legal Aid Society public defenders are represented by UAW 2235), Orlins was never sent a questionnaire or interviewed. At least three other campaigns say they were given such opportunities. Members of DC 37 will vote on the leadership’s endorsement recommendations on Tuesday, March 23.

Such backroom maneuvering is how the game is played in city politics. While it’s hard to forecast how the race will play out, the fact that the splintering left factions could allow Farhadian Weinstein to emerge victorious is an alarming prospect.

*An earlier version of this story referred to Stu Loeser as Farhadian Weinstein’s “lead campaign consultant.” That title is shared by Nathan Smith from Red Horse Strategies and Eduardo Castell from Hamilton Campaign Network. 

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