Republican Brian Fox Aiming To Unseat Councilman Justin Brannan, Leading Candidate For Council SpeakerBy Marcia Kramer

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Even in an overwhelmingly Democratic place like New York City, the red wave of Republican victories is being felt.

Republicans made gains in the City Council for the first time since 2009, and while the 51-member body will still be solidly in Democratic hands, the question is whose hands?

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Republicans won four contested seats in the City Council and could take as many as three more. The results are a microcosm of a Republican surge nationwide.

“Quality of life and crime, those are the two most important and major issues,” Republican Brian Fox said, talking about his campaign to unseat Councilman Justin Brannan to represent voters in Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach and Besonhurst.

Right now, he is ahead by 255 votes, but there are still absentee votes to be counted.

According to the Board of Elections, 3,720 absentee ballots were sent to voters, and 1,456 ballots have so far been returned — about 70% from Democratic voters.

That’s why Brannan, a leading candidate to replace Corey Johnson as Council Speaker, told CBS2 political reporter Marcia Kramer he is confident he will be returning to the City Council.

Brannan, who was in Puerto Rico for the annual schmooze-fest of politicians, lobbyists and consultants, told CBS2 that his office “ran an aggressive absentee operation. Therefore, once they open and count all the ballots, we will prevail.”

Fox, who papered the neighborhood with signs that read “Justin Brannan defunded the police,” says his opponent should not be so sure that all the votes from Democrats will go his way.

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“When I was going door to door with my staff, we winded up coming across a ton of moderate Democrats that frankly had enough and voted Republican,” Fox said.

Like other Republican candidates, including Vickie Paladino, who beat former Queens Councilman Tony Avella, Fox ran on an anti-de Blasio platform that focused on concern about crime and opposition to the vaccine mandates.

Political expert David Birdsell says what happened in the Brannan district, especially the issue of public safety, played out in many areas across the state and the nation.

“We’ve reached a point where people feel less safe than they did before the pandemic. And the people they’re going to blame for that are the people who are A, incumbent, and B, have argued against funding the police,” Birdsell said.

There may have been another factor that helped the GOP pick up seats in the council.

“They didn’t have a lot of pushback from their Democratic opponents and that’s because this is such a taken-for-granted position in New York City,” Birdsell said.

If Brannan does keep his seat, the next question is will the closeness of the race hurt his chances to be Council Speaker?

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It’s too early to tell, which may be why Brannan went to the conference in Puerto Rico; it’s a great place to press the flesh and attempt to pick up support.

Marcia Kramer