The Wrap-Up: 98th State Assembly Primary Race
Who Won, Who Lost, and How Did One Village Decide Your Election?
The Primaries for the 98th State Assembly District are over. But what do the results tell us about the voting? The major party candidates have now been decided for Democrats and Republicans, and those aren’t surprising to most observers.
Let’s break down the results and analysis by party.
Incumbent Karl Brabenec cruised to an easy and largely expected win over John Allegro to return to the 98th State Assembly seat. While precinct by precinct results are not available, turn-out was expected to be heavier in Kiryas Joel. And Kiryas Joel’s Anash party directed its followers to turn out in favor of Brabenec.
That wasn’t surprising since Brabenec courted that vote. But in a race between Allegro who has been vocal in his opposition to annexation and development, KJ would have supported any opposition. The race highlighted the divisions between three sets of voters: The party-faithful, those directed by KJ, and those who broke ranks to vote for Allegro.
But the grass-roots support from United Monroe was not enough to overcome Brabenec’s incumbency or the direction of KJ’s bloc voting. It also seemed that the negative tone of the campaign, including Brabenec’s antics with the United Monroe third-party line, may have alienated potential voters. More on that shortly.
The 98th State Assembly race pitting Krystal Serrano against Aron Wieder resulted in a win for Wieder. This was despite Serrano’s status as the endorsed candidate. Serrano’s loss can be easily attributed to her very passive campaign posture. A lack of on-the-ground campaigning, late campaign mailings, and no get-out-the-vote presence all served to hurt Serrano’s chances for a position in the fall elections. This has also been her downfall in the past, as she was a reluctant campaigner in her previous bid for this seat.
But that is only part of the story. The other part belongs to the voting blocs in both KJ and Ramapo that voted overwhelmingly for Wieder. This is despite the negatives attached to a Wieder candidacy, including his turbulent time as a Rockland County Legislator and his role in the troubled East Ramapo School District (ERCSD). Wieder has also been known for statements that charge any oversight of ERCSD as being targeted against Hasidics (note: Hasidics hold the majority of seats on the ERCSD School Board despite their children being educated in private yeshivas).
While Serrano had more votes in Orange County on the Democratic Line, her lack of showing in Rockland and on other party lines cost her dearly in her second attempt at this seat.
It’s a long and surprising list of potential and current losers in this campaign, so let’s run those down.
John Allegro/United Monroe
This could be spun as “the underdog who challenged Brabenec and the establishment”. Or how Brabenec stole an election, a challenge against corrupt, crony-politics, or even Brabenec’s desperation. All would be true in part.
But it was never clear that Allegro had a ground game that reached across the 98th Assembly District. Add to that the sentiment against United Monroe from the Village of Kiryas Joel. Then losing the “United Monroe” third-party line to Brabenec, despite knowing that risk. The ensuing name calling on both sides certainly alienated voters to the campaign. That left only the KJ bloc vote to turn out heavily for Brabenec to seal Allegro’s fate.
But the handling of the campaign also tarnished the luster from the United Monroe image, which was the source of most of his campaign support. There has recently been significant backlash on social media against the grass-roots group. The mantra of the group, “When they go low, we go high”, didn’t always translate in social media postings and responses. Many locals in Monroe now wonder if United Monroe has lost focus.
Krystal Serrano’s campaign seemed lifeless and dead on arrival. Serrano waited until one week before the primary to issue her only mailing to registered Democrats, largely citing her opponent’s poor record. In social media, her campaign page was bereft of responses to issue questions, including questions about the KJ Annexation. Her silence applied to any campaign position, and was only broken very late along.
Now having lost her second attempt at the 98th State Assembly District seat, Serrano should wonder if she has the mettle for politics. The lack of voter outreach in the areas where she should have been strongest was a costly mistake. And a lesson that you can’t win a campaign in Orange or Rockland County by just posting campaign signs.
One of the biggest losers is also Karl Brabenec. While he thought he had the full support of the KJ Bloc Votes, they signaled their true intent in the primaries. Voters on Independence, Conservative and Reform party lines cast their ballots for Wieder or did write-ins of his name. This effectively limits him to only the Republican Line in the general election. But it was also telling since it signaled that KJ and Ramapo would rather put their campaign muscle behind Aron Wieder.
To overcome that in November, Brabenec now must court the same voters he just alienated in the primaries. That isn’t an easy task, since Monroe tends to be the maker for many elections. Voters won’t easily forgive his dirty trick against United Monroe, an action that is landing him in court.
The primary election has mirrored most elections in Orange County in that the candidates are mostly selected by the KJ Bloc Vote. The process begins in the Spring when candidates are selected by party members and their proxies. Despite the actual election results, voters are usually choosing between candidates that were selected by those representing KJ interests.
One village actually controls for whom the remainder of Orange County votes.
For November, the major parties are locked by one or another of their selected candidates.
In the Independence, Democratic and Working Families parties, that candidate is Aron Wieder. On the Republican and Conservative party lines, it’s Karl Brabenec. Other candidates will get the crumbs. The typical voter in the 98th State Assembly District, if they don’t turn-out in high numbers during the primaries, is the biggest loser of all. It’s a strategy that has worked for Kiryas Joel and the Bloc Vote they control, since they count on low voter turnout.
The Wrap-Up: Preview of November
In 2014, a major effort effort for Dan Castricone yielded 9,000 votes on a third-party line for the 98th State Assembly District. Only 5,600 of those were from the Town of Monroe. It made a statement that voters were tired of politics as usual and willing to abandon their party-faithful lines. Allegro may be able to capitalize on this, as well as the negatives against both Wieder and Brabenec in a general election. But he’ll only be successful if he can expand his ground game outside of Monroe. And only if he can appeal to more than an anti-annexation message.
These are very big “ifs”. He also needs to explain how he differs from Wieder and Brabenec.
Otherwise, a preview of November is an election that has already been decided. And the voters haven’t even gone to the polls to do it.