Johnson trounces Kurland in race to succeed Quinn

Photo by Sam Spokony A jubilant Corey Johnson shook hands with supporters moments after declaring victory in the Council District 3 Democratic primary election.

Photo by Sam Spokony
A jubilant Corey Johnson shook hands with supporters moments after declaring victory in the Council District 3 Democratic primary election.

By SAM SPOKONY  |  In a Sept. 10 primary election landslide, Corey Johnson, chairperson of Community Board 4, won the Democratic nomination for the City Council’s District 3. Since he will face no Republican opponent in the November general election, his victory effectively gives him the Council seat.

An openly gay man who has led C.B. 4 since 2011, Johnson took 63 percent of the vote, defeating civil rights attorney Yetta Kurland, an openly gay woman, who took 37 percent.

In a district that spans the West Village, Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, and includes around 180,000 residents, slightly more than 18,000 people turned out to vote on Tuesday. The support for Johnson was equally strong within each contested neighborhood, as Board of Elections data showed that he prevailed at virtually every District 3 polling site.

Johnson will take over the District 3 seat from Christine Quinn, who has held it for the past 14 years.

“I will fight for the people in this district. That’s my pledge,” said Johnson, after he declared victory in front of nearly 100 cheering supporters at Mustang Harry’s, a sports bar in Chelsea, at 352 Seventh Ave., two blocks south of Madison Square Garden. “We had great support from elected officials, but this was truly a grassroots, bottom-up campaign. It was all about the block association heads, the P.T.A. presidents, the tenant leaders and longtime residents.”

The primary winner later stressed, as he has throughout his campaign, that his first priorities upon taking the Council seat will be to focus on securing more affordable housing, improving local schools and fighting for a new area hospital to replace the former St. Vincent’s.

“There are definitely a lot of things to tackle,” Johnson said.

Once the polls had closed at 9 p.m., there was immediately a striking difference between the mood and scene at Johnson’s and Kurland’s post-election rallies — almost as if everyone already knew who had won. While Johnson’s party was packed with people like the tenant and community leaders he thanked in his speech, Kurland’s only drew about 20 people and was quiet from the start.

And as Johnson was declaring victory around 10:30 p.m., Kurland hadn’t even shown up to her own party yet.

A Kurland spokesperson did not respond to multiple requests for comment following the election, and the defeated candidate did not seem interested in conceding gracefully. In her concession speech later that night, Kurland reportedly called Johnson’s campaign a work of “evil genius.”

This is the second time Kurland has failed in an attempt to take the District 3 seat. She won 31 percent of the vote in a losing effort in 2009, when Quinn prevailed in a three-way race.

RJ Jordan, who served as Johnson’s campaign manager, said later on election night that he had felt victory coming throughout the day — even in the morning and afternoon, while the polls were still open.

“I made three loops around the district on my bike, saying thank you to people for coming out, and at every polling site, I saw all these great tenant leaders on our side,” Jordan said. “That’s when I felt it, and I thought, ‘Oh wow, we’ve really brought together a strong coalition of people in this community.’ ”

Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, whose district includes Chelsea, was also a big presence in the Election Day outreach for Johnson, who he had endorsed. The assemblymember spent the day alongside other campaign supporters, speaking to voters on Johnson’s behalf.

When asked why he put forth such a strong personal effort to support Johnson, Gottfried simply said, “Well, I don’t endorse a candidate halfheartedly, and Corey really has done terrific work in this community.”

The primary’s lopsided results notwithstanding, this was a tough, emotionally charged race that took its toll on both candidates.

The interactions between Johnson and Kurland became increasingly bitter toward the race’s end, culminating publicly in a raucous final debate on Aug. 26 (sponsored by NYC Community Media, the parent company of The Villager and East Villager). While both candidates traded barbs du8ring the campaign, Kurland was responsible for the vast majority of the attacks, especially at debates.

Along with lobbing personal insults and negative rumors, Kurland had repeatedly tried to portray Johnson as an untrustworthy real estate executive because of his previous work for GFI Development Corporation.

But voters didn’t buy it, and it seemed as though the persistent attacks — along with the fact that Kurland often spent more time assailing her opponent than presenting her own plans and credentials — only made Johnson a stronger candidate in the eyes of many community members.

After accepting his primary win, Johnson said he was quite happy to be done with talking about the past.

“I want to talk about the future, and about solving the problems this district faces,” he said, “and so I’m glad that the campaign is behind me.”

Another person who was understandably glad to see the negative campaigning end was Johnson’s mother, Ann Richardson.

Along with providing invaluable emotional support — “My mom is my best friend,” Johnson said to describe her — Richardson worked as hard as any staffer on the campaign, making thousands of phone calls to voters on behalf of her son, as well as driving down from Massachusetts to hit the streets with his supporters on Election Day.

“It’s very hard when people say negative things about your son, but I know him,” said Richardson, as she stood near the polling site at P.S. 33 in Chelsea. “He’s a passionate person, who just cares very much about this city and this district.”

There was a sense of symmetry in Richardson’s presence there during the primary.

When Corey Johnson first entered the public sphere in 2000, as a high schooler who dared to come out of the closet by telling his football teammates he was gay, readers and viewers of that story saw his mother alongside him every step of the way, exuding a composed, articulate expression of love and tolerance that struck a chord with millions of parents across the nation.

And when Johnson, 31, rose to declare victory Tuesday night, his mother was right there with him again. As her son spoke jubilantly to express gratitude to his supporters (including her), and to look forward to his role on the City Council, Richardson stood there quietly off to his right, beaming.

Toward the night’s end, after Johnson had given his speech and shaken hands with practically everyone in Mustang Harry’s, he stepped outside to get some air. One of his supporters, an older woman, was near the bar’s entrance and watched him as he stood there smiling, just taking it all in.

“Gee, I wish he was my son,” she said.

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23 Responses to Johnson trounces Kurland in race to succeed Quinn

  1. Maybe Yetta will go away now. Far away. Far far away.

  2. Dear Ms. Kurland: Bad karma is a bitch to shake. Love, District 3.

  3. I went to the debate mentioned in the article. I was appalled at the lack of detail on any of the issues in District 3. It seemed that her talking points were St. Vincents and attacking Corey as a real estate developer. She had nothing else to offer. It was humorous and a bit sad. Congrats Corey. You really deserved this after all of the hard work you've done on the Community Board.

  4. Lets clarify one thing Yetta… There will never ever be a hospital at the St. Vincent's site. No matter how you want to distort the facts, it will never happen. But feel free to keep on dangling that carrot in front of your supporters' faces. It was a tragedy for that hospital to be closed but it is closed. Done. Move on.

    • It's true! She made that her one issue, but had nothing useful at all to say about that issue! If you talk to some of her ex "coalition" colleagues they have nothing nice to say about her. They said she botched the legal cases they filed with the city and then basically left the coalition out to dry. Really sad person that Yetta.

  5. David O. Selznick said: "There are two kinds of class. First class and no class." Corey exemplifies the former; Yetta exemplifies the latter.

  6. I still cringe each time anyone refers to YK as a civil rights attorney. She couldn't even do a same-sex second parent adoption for a good friend of mine. Botched the whole thing up.

  7. I hope this is the end of Yetta Kurland. I for one and am sick of her and think she is incredibly transparent and inarticulate. Throughout her campaign I spoke with many of her former employees, and even former law firm clients, who unanimously stated she is untrustworthy, mendacious, exploitative, and absolutely the wrong candidate for the city. Many of her former employees at her language school even filed cases against her with the IRS–and they won! I'm really wondering who is that 35% that voted for her.

  8. Blessing for Yetta

    It's hard to resist post-election thumping, especially when the losing candidate has still engaged in negative attacks in a conciliatory blog regarding "big money" in the race. Another accusation without backup intended to fan the flames of injustice
    I pray for Yetta…honestly…she is in need of support and therapy, and a loss this massive for the second time is not comforting to anyone. Let's all come together now :) Bless her heart..or whatever controls her actions.

  9. I happen to be a Chelsea resident who knows both candidates and chose to support Corey. Let's stop these negative comments. There is a great deal of work to be done in District 3, going forward, and it will be an enormous help to have Yetta's assistance, as well as that of her supporters, on many of the issues we'll be confronting. Let's stop the attacks and pledge to work together, in a truly positive spirit.

    • Eh. Yetta called Corey evil over and over and over again. Thats not the type of person we need at the table. And what do we need her assistance on? Really what? She divided people on St. Vincents. That was her only issue. I don't wish her any ill will but I'd really like her to exit politics. She is the worst kind of politician.

      • I agree with Julie B. Usually after an election it's best for the winner to extend a hand to the loser and try to bring the community together. However, this week's landslide has indicated that the community has already spoken: they don't want Yetta Kurland's input with anything. She's not for us. Plain and simple. If she had been a more honest candidate, one whose campaign solely rooted in lies that were easily debunked or vitriol nobody asked for or appreciated, then maybe there would be a place for her in our community's politics. But really, she's made herself the outcast and the villain here. If people express disdain over her actions, it's not because these people are being negative—they're just being observant. I hope she sees the light and gracefully exits New York politics.

    • Yetta`s assistance? Surely you jest, LOL.

      When someone cooks, they do not use garbage!

  10. Well written and accurate article, but you neglected several key neighborhoods in your description of the council district's area, namely, West SoHo and the South Village.
    "In a district that spans the West Village, Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen"

    Can you add a Correction to this, please. We who live in the South Village and West SoHo want to claim Mr. Johnson as our representative as well. Thanks.

  11. I have a few friends who supported Yetta (personally, at least – one of them admitted to me on election day that he didn't approve of the way the campaign was waged), and I have no doubt they'll be enthusiastically engaged in working for a better community, and will work alongside Corey on all the many issues where we agree.

    I hope that eventually Yetta can put aside her apparent bitterness and come together in the spirit of goodwill, unity, and cooperation. I mean, I'm not gonna place any bets on that, but one can always hope.

    Anger, vitriol, and negativity never win in the end. You can't win a local race by appealing to email addresses of people in Ohio, or getting into fights on twitter. You can't lie about someone people in the community know, and you can't get away with not knowing the details of the little, local, unglamorous issues people care about when they vote for a councilmember. I hope Corey's huge win hammer those lessons home not just to Yetta, but to anyone who would think of following in her campaign's footsteps.

  12. Just saw Corey Johnson with his freaky entourage. I can believe people voted for these old twinkies. Ugly old men who think they are still boys.

    • Yes, I guess that's what made up the almost 70% OF WEST SIDE RESIDENTS that voted for Councilman Johnson. Thank god, for those twinkies, otherwise he never would have won in a LANDSLIDE VICTORY.

    • inspired by guestme

      That is a fantastic political point you make, and one that should not be taken lightly. Your concerns regarding beauty and age, and the tenuous grasp on childhood that comes with maturity are quite profound. I applaud your punctuation and grammar, though I'm not certain if you "can" or "can't" believe people. Perhaps your ambiguity belies our true human condition of indecision. Bravo for expressing your views and with such precision.

    • And how old or beautiful might you be?

  13. Yet another loss for yetta. goodbye

  14. wow no one is perfect not me or you or yetta or corey. I think we need alot more unity the election is over the CAMPAIGN IS OVER THIS HAPPENS ALL THE TIME in every race from president to village idiot elections to 3rd grade class president. Things are said that maybe should not have been but lets move forward LEtS WISH YETTA LUCK IN HER FUTURE ENDEAVORS AND THE SAME TO COREY IN HIS NEW ROLE AND LIVE IN A MORE PEACEFUL CITY

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