Flanked by a coterie of elected officials, Donovan Richards declared victory last night in a wide-open, eight-way Queens City Council special election. Seven miles south, Pesach Osina did the same exact thing.
With 97 percent of precincts reporting, Mr. Richards leads Mr. Osina by just 26 votes, easily making the 31st District race too close for observers to call. Vote counting ceased at midnight and will resume today, but at last glance, Mr. Richards had 2,513 votes to Mr. Osina’s 2,487. In addition to a potentially missing memory stick from a ballot scanner, absentee and paper ballots still need to be counted. A recount is also likely, but each candidate acted like the undisputed victors nevertheless.
“I’m calling on the community tonight to put aside their differences. Those who ran in this election, let’s not be bitter against each other,” Mr. Richards said at a bustling lounge in Laurelton, Queens. “If you are really for the community, if you are truly for the community, whether it is the Orthodox Jewish community, whether it is the African-American community, whether it is the Jamaican community, whether it is the Haitian community, whether it is our white brothers and sisters, I am calling on you to get your hands dirty and get in here. And let’s make sure we are not losing young people to this gun violence on these streets.”
“And let’s stop the foolish conversation of two councilmen in the district. The numbers do not lie, we’ve seen the numbers, we have declared victory tonight, we are victorious and we are ready to march on,” Mr. Richards later added.
For his part, Mr. Osina declared victory even before Mr. Richards did.
“While we are still uncertain of the total numbers, when every vote is counted, we will be victorious,” Mr. Osina told his supporters. “This was an honest, fair race and I would like to thank my opponents for everything they have done on behalf of the community.”
The race grew heated when a fiery clergyman, Bishop Charles Norris, controversially called for several of the black candidates to step aside in the race so Mr. Osina, the only white and Jewish contender, would not win. The district, which includes an Orthodox Jewish enclave in Far Rockaway, is 68 percent black and Mr. Norris quite bluntly argued that Mr. Osina, a former staffer to Queens Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder, could not serve its needs. None heeded his call, however, and the district’s Jewish community rallied around Mr. Osina in response. Their ambitious get-out-the-vote effort, which included a roving sound truck playing Hebrew-language songs on Mr. Osina’s behalf, seemed to pay off, matching Mr. Richards’s superior fundraising and bevy of labor endorsements.
An automatic recount is mandated by state law if the final margin is less than 0.5 percent of the total vote. As of this writing, that would mean approximately 41 votes, although the number is subject to change as absentee and affidavit ballots are tabulated, or if the occasionally unpredictable Board of Elections further adjusts the final number.
New York City politicos may remember a similarly heated situation last year when Brooklyn State Senate candidates Lew Fidler and David Storobin both declared victory in their own special election. In that race, after 22,000 votes cast and multiple months of counting and litigation, Mr. Storobin prevailed by a mere 13 votes. Time will tell if Mr. Osina and Mr. Richards face that level of drama, but regardless, whoever wins will have only a short time in office before having to face the voters again in the city’s regularly scheduled September primary.
Additional reporting by Colin Campbell.