When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won her upset victory over Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley, many pundits assumed that this was entirely due to demographic changes in the district that were unfriendly to a white congressman.
But a post-election survey of Ocasio-Cortez’s race suggested that this was not the case: Her upset was due in large part to high voter turnout in gentrified neighborhoods in Queens. The bulk of her votes came from areas that were experiencing rapid gentrification, and were less uniformly black or Hispanic than districts that turned out in high numbers for Crowley.
New data shows that the same was true for New York state Senate winner Julia Salazar: The lion’s share of her votes came from neighborhoods known for recent gentrification: East Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Greenpoint.
Steven Romalewski of the Center for Urban Research at the City University of New York provided an electoral map to The Intercept showing the results:
A 2016 study by New York University’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy found that Greenpoint and Williamsburg were the gentrification capitals of New York City. Rents there had increased a whopping 78.7 percent between 1990 and 2014 while incomes rose: Between 2000 and 2014, Greenpoint and Williamsburg saw the largest increase in income of any gentrifying neighborhood in the city. They also saw the largest increase in residents with college degrees.
Although gentrification does not strictly occur along racial lines — nonwhite residents can be gentrifiers, and each neighborhood has at least some white residents who lived there long before gentrification began — the unequal distribution of wealth across racial groups means that gentrification has brought significant shifts in the racial composition of these districts in recent years.
Between 1990 and 2014, the Hispanic populations of Greenpoint and Williamsburg declined by 12 percent, and both neighborhoods are now predominantly white. In Bushwick, the Latino population fell 13 percent over a 15-year span, while the white population has increased 610 percent. Still, the neighborhood maintains a slim Hispanic majority.
While Salazar performed well in whiter neighborhoods with newer transplants, Dilan performed best among voters in Highland Park and Cypress Hills. Highland Park is majority Hispanic and African-American, while Cypress Hills is nearly 90 percent Hispanic and black. Neither is considered a hub of gentrification, though Dilan also did well in the heart of Williamsburg.
In addition to Salazar’s win during the September 13 elections, progressives were successful in unseating six of the eight former members of the Independent Democratic Conference — a breakaway group of Democrats that effectively assisted the Republicans in controlling the state’s Senate chamber.
In the two races that took place in Queens and Brooklyn, the impact of highly gentrified neighborhoods is clear.
The contest between Zellnor Myrie and former IDC incumbent Jesse Hamilton mooted the traditional racial identity-based analysis. Both candidates are black, but the incumbent did much better in heavily African-American neighborhoods like Brownsville and Crown Heights with over 60 percent of the vote, while Myrie took Park Slope — a gentrified neighborhood that is 70 percent white and one of the wealthiest in Brooklyn — with over 70 percent of the vote. He also won a huge number of votes from Prospect Heights and Prospect Lefferts Gardens. Between 2000 and 2010, the white population jumped from 28 to 47 percent in Prospect Heights. And although Prospect Lefferts Gardens is still predominantly black and Hispanic, Myrie, who was raised there, had a home-court advantage.
Jessica Ramos, 31, unseated incumbent state Sen. Jose Peralta in the 13th state Senate district. Like Salazar and Myrie, she benefited from very strong results in gentrifying areas, including Astoria, Queens. Peralta, like Crowley, held a commanding lead in East Elmhurst — a heavily Hispanic neighborhood known to be one of the most demographically stable neighborhoods in the city.
It is noteworthy, however, that Ramos also did well in Jackson Heights, a historic neighborhood with a small white minority and a longtime Hispanic- and Asian-majority population. This further suggests that the appeal of progressive insurgents was not limited to gentrifying neighborhoods.
To be clear, we don’t yet have the data on the exact voter makeup of these progressive voting coalitions. The maps show that progressive challengers generally did best in areas that are the most gentrified, and that have seen large increases in college-educated residents and higher incomes. But it is possible that longtime residents of these neighborhoods, those suffering from the effects of gentrification, came out in large numbers to support Salazar, rather than, or in addition to, the gentrifying newcomers. After all, Salazar campaigned strongly against gentrification, calling for more powerful rent and vacancy controls to help stem displacement.
It’s also possible that success in gentrifying areas was driven by the influx of younger voters who tend toward more progressive politics — regardless of race or class. Ocasio-Cortez benefited from progressive organizations like Our Revolution and Democratic Socialists of America, who deployed young voters on a wide-reaching door-knocking campaign, and Salazar seems to have been boosted by similar ground efforts.
The topic would benefit from further research.