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Alcántara Defeated Despite Dominican-American Roots

Alcántara's membership in the Independent Democratic Conference sealed her defeat.

In a rematch of a Democratic primary race that was decided by just over 500 votes two years ago, former City Council member Robert Jackson defeated incumbent Sen. Marisol Alcántara on Thursday.

During the campaign, Jackson hammered at the incumbent’s membership in the Independent Democratic Conference, a group of Democrats that crossed party lines to caucus with Republicans who control the State Senate. Alcántara focused on legislation she passed in her first term in the Senate and her service to the Washington Heights community.  

With 68 percent of the votes counted, Robert Jackson had 57 percent of the vote ahead of Alcántara and Tirso Santiago Piña, who took a low profile but had a spot on the ballot.

Alcántara was counting on her Dominican roots to produce a big margin in Washington Heights and Inwood, heavily Dominican neighborhoods at Manhattan’s northern tip. That gave her the edge needed to win a closely contested, four-way Democratic primary in 2016 with 32.7 percent of the vote. Overall, about a quarter of the population of the district, which runs down the West Side of Manhattan as far as 26th Street, was born in the Dominican Republic.

Jackson, a leader of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity movement to require more state funding of New York City public schools, gathered a long list of endorsements from Democratic elected officials who were eager to punish the Democratic senators who had aligned with the Republican caucus.

That mattered for some voters in Washington Heights and Inwood, but many of those interviewed focused on Alcántara’s service to the community.

“I voted for Marisol Alcántara because she’s a worker who fights for the neighborhood. She obtained many things we didn’t have in our community, for the sick and in hospitals,” said Marina Núñez a 77-year-old building superintendent who migrated from the Dominican Republic. “She deserves it. She’s an entrepreneur, and a Dominican like me.”

Fernando Mendez, 72, a campaign volunteer for Rep. Adriano Espaillat, who had a falling out with Alcántara, said he was voting for a little-known candidate instead, Tirso Santiago Piña. “Marisol is supporting the Republicans more than the community,” he said in Spanish. “She betrayed Espaillat after he helped get her elected. She was ungrateful for his support.” He added, “I don’t like the IDC,” and reasoned that Santiago Piña will bring down Alcántara’s vote, “and then Jackson will win.”

Fernando Mendez, 72, after he voted for Tirso Piña in Inwood. Credit: Giacomo Tognini for Documented.

Stephanie Burgos, 27, a Dominican-born finance manager who lives in Washington Heights, said it was difficult to choose because both Jackson and Alcántara “have good views and policies they’ve focused on.”

“The most important issues for me are gentrification and funding of the schools, and also public transportation,” she said. “My brother goes to school here, and I just had a newborn, my first child.”  

Maria Disla, a 70-year-old immigrant from the Dominican Republic who was wheeled out of the polling station in the YM & YWHA on Nagle Avenue by her caretaker, said the biggest issues for her were education and progress for the community.

“I voted for Marisol because she’s given a lot of help to those who don’t have anything,” she said.

While Jackson targeted Alcántara’s role in the IDC, he had his own handicap beyond his inability to speak Spanish: the damaging comments he’s made about Dominican politicians in the past. This was his third time facing a Dominican candidate after losing to Alcántara and to her predecessor, Espaillat, who vacated the seat and subsequently won election to Congress.

Paul Moses contributed reporting.

Correction: The story was updated on Sep. 13th to remove a quote that was misattributed during the editing process.

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