Two Brooklyn Democrats Help Clinch New Majorities

After upset victories, Rose and Gounardes will head to Washington and Albany to pursue pent-up legislative agendas

Congressional candidate Max Rose at his victory party (Image courtesy of Max Rose for Congress/YouTube)

Democratic victory was especially sweet in southern Brooklyn last night, where two underdogs defeated GOP incumbents and became part of new majorities in Albany and Washington.

It was just past midnight when the 33-year-old State Senate candidate Andrew Gounardes emerged as the winner in his bid to upset Marty Golden, an eight-term Republican icon. “We could see this huge crowd of people that had spilled out onto the street to greet us,” said Dara Adams, chief strategist for the Gounardes campaign, who made his way with colleagues from their headquarters in Bay Ridge to the victory party a few blocks away at Cebu Bar & Bistro.

“It was pretty insane, it was pretty incredible. There were so many people that voted for the first time, people who’d never been involved in politics before, and there were people who have been waiting 16 years to have a representative that they feel shares their values.”

The celebration was similarly jubilant among supporters of Max Rose, who won a close contest with Republican Dan Donovan for the 11th Congressional District, which includes Staten Island and a swath of southern Brooklyn. “Four hundred and sixty two days ago, we launched this campaign to do things differently,” the Brooklyn native told supporters at the Vanderbilt in Staten Island. “We were in this to change politics irrevocably.”

While the hoped-for blue wave had its limitations on the national level, in southern Brooklyn it washed away two remnants of GOP control. Gounardes ousted the only current Republican state senator in the borough, while Rose defeated the only Republican Congressman. Rose’s winning campaign, which drew attention and money from the national party, helped solidify a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. In New York State, the victory of Gounardes and other Democratic candidates powered the party’s takeover of the Senate, putting control over state government (including the Assembly and governor’s office) in Democratic hands for the first time in a decade.  

For Bay Ridge native Gounardes, a community activist and general counsel to Borough President Eric Adams, it was a second try at defeating Golden, an affable but old-school politician. Gounardes won with 31,168 votes, or 50.9% of the total, as of today’s count. Update: Golden has refused to concede, pending a recount next week.

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State Senate candidate Gounardes during the campaign, with U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, at center (Photo by Trey Pentecost)

The Gounardes-Golden battle became a heated one in an otherwise quiet district, producing a series of contentious debates, including one in which Gounardes declared that Golden has “a superficial relationship with the truth” and criticized Golden’s vote for a bill that would have allowed insurance companies to cease coverage of pre-existing conditions. “No one should be selling cupcakes to pay for cancer treatments,” Gounardes said. Another flash point was the role of a Golden staffer in the Metropolitan Republican Club, which hosted the Proud Boys white nationalist group on Oct. 12, shortly before a street fight with protesters.

The Rose-Donovan race had its own twist, which was the challenge to the Democrat of running in the city’s most conservative Congressional district. (Rose’s winning tally was 95,458 votes, or 52.8% of the total.) Rose, a decorated Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, avoided liberal orthodoxy and sometimes tacked to the right of his opponent. He took issue with Democratic leaders from Mayor de Blasio to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, while questioning the need to impeach President Trump. Yet his policy positions were often in line with his party on health care, taxes and immigration.

“The story of this country has always been that no matter our differences, no matter the challenges in our way—we do what others say is impossible,” Rose said in a victory statement. “It has never been about what party you are. On Staten Island and in South Brooklyn, we put country first. We believed in an America where the government has got our backs. An America where it doesn’t matter your color, gender, sexual orientation, rich or poor—the American dream is a dream we can all share. We believed. And we won.”



In January, Rose will join a House majority that will give the Trump resistance legislative clout, complete with subpoena power. Among the first efforts will be ethics reform in such areas as campaign finance and voting rights. “At the same time, the incoming chairs of 21 House committees will be looking for ways to hold the Trump Administration officials’ feet to the fire, mainly by pressing forward on investigations they feel were ignored under the Republican majority,” reported Time in the election’s aftermath.

In Albany, the consolidation of power has rekindled a legislative wish list, including legalization of recreational marijuana, campaign-finance reform, gun control, climate-change measures, and the rebuilding of mass transit. “You have a raft of legislation that has been bottled up for decades,” State Senator Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat, told the New York Times. “We’re going to be testing the limits of progressive possibilities. I hope we look a lot more like California.”

“We’re so happy with the outcome of these elections,” Mallory McMahon, co-founder of the community organization Fight Back Bay Ridge, told The Bridge this morning. She characterizes her group, which was founded as a reaction to Donald Trump’s election, as a check on local politicians as well. “We know that our work is not done,” McMahon said. Her group knows “full well that these representatives, just because they’re Democrats, doesn’t mean they’re always necessarily going to do what we want, and we’re totally prepared to hold both Rose’s and Gounardes’s feet to the fire as well.”

Michael Stahl is a freelance writer and editor. A former high school English teacher, he has written for Rolling Stone, Vice, the Village Voice, Narratively, Splitsider, Outside Magazine and other publications.