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Julia Salazar, 27-Year-Old Newcomer, Wins New York State Senate Primary

Salazar survived numerous scandals to defeat the longtime incumbent, Martin Dilan

Democratic New York State Senate candidate Julia Salazar smiles as she speaks to a supporter before a rally in McCarren Park in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Salazar is taking on 16-year-incumbent Sen. Martin Dilan in Brooklyn's 18th District on Thursday, Sept. 13Julia Salazar, New York, USA - 15 Aug 2018

Mary Altaffer/AP/REX Shutterstock

It might have been one of the bumpiest primary-campaign finishes in New York state history, but 27-year-old Julia Salazar pulled it off, upsetting 16-year incumbent Martin Dilan to clinch the nomination for the state senate’s 18th District, representing a large swath of northern Brooklyn.

Salazar, a community organizer and Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) candidate, beat Dilan with roughly 57 percent of the vote as of this writing.

The homestretch of Salazar’s campaign was marred by a series of scandals, heaping more national attention on a state-level primary already in the spotlight because of comparisons between Salazar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 28-year-old DSA member who toppled Rep. Joe Crowley to win a congressional primary in Queens in June. Last week, a story alleged that Salazar had an affair with former Mets star Keith Hernandez and had been arrested in 2011 for impersonating his wife to commit bank fraud. Though Salazar was never charged, and in fact won a defamation suit over the allegation, the salacious story dominated the final news cycle before Thursday’s primary.

The Hernandez story came on the heels of several reports that Salazar had misrepresented her biography, identifying as an immigrant, though she was born in Miami (her father was from Colombia), and portraying herself as coming from a financially struggling household (which her brother disputed but her mother defended). And in late August, Tablet published an article questioning her Jewish identity and detailing the right-wing views she held in her college years, which included pro-life activism.

“I regret not having the foresight to anticipate being misunderstood,” Salazar told Rolling Stone in a recent profile. “That I didn’t insist on a dedicated messaging and press operation. We never had that. It’s been learning as we go with best practices for campaigning.”

But the constituents of District 18 were apparently untroubled by Salazar’s recent string of bad press. Her victory is yet another indication that the status quo is, on the local level, under serious assault in the Democratic Party. Salazar’s platform was particularly focused on affordable housing and tenants’ rights, issues that resonate with most New Yorkers. She also staked out positions far to the left of her opponent, such as calling for ICE to be abolished, and refused to take corporate money, fueling her campaign with small donations and a fleet of grassroots activists. 

There is no Republican challenger for the solidly blue District 18, guaranteeing Salazar will be the first DSA member in the New York State Senate.

Elsewhere in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo defeated his challenger Cynthia Nixon and secured his third term in Albany.

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