Long-time Williamsburg Assemblyman Joseph R. Lentol has been defeated in the Democratic primary by upstart progressive challenger and community activist Emily Gallagher, after tallying absentee ballots.
Lentol, 77, first won election to the Assembly in 1972. His father, Ed, had served as a New York state Assemblyman, state senator, and was a justice of the state Supreme Court. His grandfather, also named Joseph Lentol, served in the state Assembly as well.
During his decades in office, Lentol became a close friend to the Orthodox Jewish community in Williamsburg. His 50th Assembly District in North Brooklyn also includes the Greenpoint and Fort Greene neighborhoods.
Gallagher, a 36-year-old community board member, challenged Lentol from the left in this year’s Democratic primary, with endorsements from progressives like Cynthia Nixon and Zephyr Teachout. Lentol led by 1,763 votes following Primary Day voting on June 23 (57.7% to 42.3%). But observers had believed that whereas Lentol would get a strong turnout on Primary Day, many of Gallagher’s supporters would use mail-in ballots this year. One person familiar with the race told Hamodia the day after the primaries that Lentol supporters had been hoping for at least a 3,000-vote lead before absentee ballots were counted. That assessment turned out to be accurate, as Gallagher’s victory became apparent Tuesday night, following counting of absentee ballots, by just several hundred votes.
“I can’t believe I am writing this but it’s official: we won,” Gallagher tweeted on Wednesday. “This was a collective and truly grassroots campaign, powered by a deep love for North Brooklyn and a desire to make it better. Thank you so much for believing in me, against all the odds.”
Lentol had conceded defeat Tuesday night, releasing a statement that read, “It’s decided: The voters in the 50th Assembly District voted for change. It’s been a great honor to represent the people of North Brooklyn in the Assembly. I’m proud of my years of service, delivering important legislation and always attending to constituents’ needs. My successor will be busy as the new Assembly Member. I wish her well as she faces the enormous challenges ahead.”
In a statement to Hamodia on Wednesday, Rabbi David Niederman, president of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn, who had become close with Lentol during his decades in office, praised the long-time Assemblyman’s career, calling Lentol “our finest and fiercest representative,” and said he looked forward to working with Gallagher.
“Joe fought to ensure that we could conduct our religious lives without limitations from the government, which is the bedrock of our democracy,” Rabbi Niederman said. “We look forward to working with Joe during the remainder of his term and in the future.
“The election is over and we look forward to working with the new Democratic nominee, Emily Gallagher, whom we know for years on the Community Board. We are confident that our future work will be built on the foundations that have been laid. Knowing Emily, she will continue to fight for the entire Williamsburg community and the concerns unique to each community’s own communal and religious issues.”