BY MEAGHAN MCGOLDRICK & HELEN KLEIN
With close to 100 percent of precincts reporting, and roughly 900 votes separating the leading contenders, Democratic candidate Justin Brannan claimed victory at around 10:30 p.m. Tuesday night in the race the for the 43rd District City Council seat, expected to be one of the tightest races in the city.
Brannan celebrated his victory with friends and family at Cebu, 8801 Third Avenue. Republican/Conservative candidate John Quaglione, on the other hand, told supporters at the Bay Ridge Manor, 476 76th Street, that his effort to be the neighborhood’s next councilmember appeared to have fallen short just moments before Brannan’s camp called the win.
As of midnight, 98.95 percent of precincts had reported, according to the Board of Elections’ unofficial election night results, with 50.1 percent of the vote for Brannan and 46.89 percent for Quaglione. At that time, there were 12,516 votes for Brannan and 11,621 for Quaglione.
By that time, the Reform Party candidate Bob Capano had secured just 324 votes – just 51 more than the (unpublicized) Women’s Equality candidate Angel Medina, who received 273.
“Campaigns like this are won door to door, conversation to conversation, street to street,” said Brannan, who first thanked the “future First Lady,” his wife, Leigh, and the “future First Mom,” his mother, Mary, before diving into a long list of unions, friends, family and volunteers. “Tonight was a victory for love, for hope, for tolerance, for acceptance. Tonight was a victory for one of the strongest communities I’ve ever known – and one that we’re going to make even stronger together.”
The crowd was both voluminous and vocal as expressions of joy and relief washed over – and remained. Former Democratic contender Reverend Khader El-Yateem – who lost the primary election to Brannan by just seven and a half percent of the vote in September – was among the first to congratulate the Bay Ridge native. “This is what democracy looks like,” he said, highlighting Brannan’s dedication to inclusiveness and to “[giving] everyone a seat at the table.”
Next came Councilmember Vincent Gentile, who has served the 43rd District for more than 13 years and, despite being term-limited, is elated to pass the torch to Brannan, a longtime staffer of his, come the New Year.
“I am so pleased for my good friend, someone that is so ready for this job, Justin Brannan. He really, really deserves this,” Gentile said. “Justin has the leadership that we need, he has the background that we need, and he hits the ground running, not only in our district but in City Hall.”
The mood at the Bay Ridge Manor was vastly different.
The subdued crowd watched results on a large screen that dashed many of their hopes — not only Quaglione’s apparent loss but also the resounding loss of Republican-Conservative mayoral candidate Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, who represents a portion of the Council District and who trailed incumbent Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio by some 38 percentage points according to unofficial election night results provided by the city’s Board of Elections.
But, it was Quaglione’s showing that cut to the quick for many of those in the room. “I didn’t think it would turn out this way,” said one supporter, holding back tears.
Quaglione himself was grim when he addressed the crowd, which gave him a standing ovation despite the numbers, as he delivered the bad news — not quite a concession but an assessment of where he stood.
“We tried,” the candidate said. “We gave it everything we got, but it doesn’t look like we are going to make it. So we wanted to come down and send you home early, not make you wait around, but if anything changes, if we have to go to court with paper ballots…”
“We’re waiting,” more than one person in the room called out.
State Senator Marty Golden, Quaglione’s longtime boss and mentor, spoke similarly. “We fought the good fight. We spoke. We got close but we didn’t close the deal,” he told the group. With Brannan leading by between 800 and 900 votes, according to unofficial results, “We don’t think we can overcome those numbers,” Golden said.
Nonetheless, as the group began slowly to disperse, Golden called out, “It’s not over till the fat lady sings.”
Less than a mile away, Gentile remained confident.
“It will be my honor and privilege to hand [Brannan] this membership pin on January 1,” he said.
“I’m going to fight like hell for everybody who calls this district home,” Brannan said. “I don’t care if you’ve been here since birth or if you’ve been here since breakfast, my door is always going to be open to you.”
Brannan is a former aide to Councilmember Vincent Gentile, former founding club president of the Bay Ridge Democrats and a founding member of local grass-roots organization Bay Ridge Cares. He is the son of immigrants (his mother an educator), a small-business owner (he and his wife own The Art Room) and a former founding member of not one but two hardcore bands that toured the world.
At a mid-October debate, the lifelong Ridgeite – who also served as the deputy executive director for the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs at the New York City Department of Education – chose education, transportation and improving quality-of-life in the district as three issues on which he would focus, if elected (specifically vowing to work to build a school in District 20 – one of the most overcrowded school districts in the city – within his first term).
This is not the first time there’s been a close contest in the district. There was a far closer one in the 2003 special election to fill the seat — vacated when Golden won Gentile’s State Senate seat. Then, a five-way race came down to two contenders, Gentile, a Democrat and the late Rosemarie O’Keefe, a Republican. As of election night, O’Keefe was ahead by 47 votes. After two and a half weeks during which paper ballots were scrutinized and counted, Gentile ultimately won the election by a margin of 31 votes.
The 43rd District encompasses the neighborhoods of Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst and Bath Beach.