It was around midnight that Donovan Richards claimed victory in Tuesday’s special election for the 31st City Council District, but with only 26 votes separating him and his hottest rival, Pesach Osina, the ultimate outcome is anything but certain.
The race, with Osina, an Orthodox Jew, and seven black candidates vying to fill until January the position left vacant after James Sanders Jr. (D-Rockaway) was elected to the state Senate in the fall, is likely to remain up in the air for a while, as absentee ballots and emergency affidavits were yet to be counted, and talk of a re-count emerged even as Richards’ supporters celebrated.
Sanders, for whom Richards had served as chief of staff for a decade, introduced the candidate, who told the crowd at Clippers II, a restaurant and bar, “We have a lot of work to do. We just had a hurricane that struck the Rockaways.” Then, directly addressing Mayor Bloomberg, he said, “My district can’t wait for people to get their homes repaired. We need aid and we need it now. We can no longer wait for government to respond.”
As the end seemed in sight for a race that was frequently inflamed over religion and ethnicity, Richards called upon his fellow candidates to put aside their differences and “make sure we are not losing young people to gun violence on the streets.”
And speaking to the young people who supported his candidacy, Richards said, “You can make a difference in your community. It is time for this generation to rise up.”
According to incomplete tallies from the Board of Elections, with 97 percent of the ballots counted, Richards was leading Osina by 2,513 votes to 2,487 votes.
The heavily African-American 31st District seemed divided by the crowded field of candidates. Third-place finisher Jacques Leandre had 1,160 votes, followed by Michael Duncan with 962, Selvena Brooks with 817, Marie Adam-Ovide with 159, Saywalah Kesselly with 152 and Allan Jennings with 114.
The ultimate winner will face re-election in November, hoping to win a full four-year term to serve the southeast section of the borough, including Cambria Heights, Springfield Gardens, Rosedale and part of the Rockaways.
Earlier in the evening, City Comptroller John Liu praised Richards, saying he has “been doing the job for a long time now,” and adding that if he wins, “there would be total continuity. He’s a very capable and dynamic young person.”
Liu cited fixing problems with area schools, addressing ongoing flood issues, and fighting hot-sheet motels planned for the district as among Richards’ challenges.
Among Richards’ supports were George Bradley and his wife, Annette Jennings Bradley, who spent 15 hours manning the polls.
“We met him when he was Sanders’ chief of staff,” said George Bradley. “He was doing a lot. He is the most qualified person for the position. He can hit the ground flying. He’s a good listener. He’s a bottom-up type person. He’s an out-of-the-box thinker. He’ll go the extra mile.”
Annette Jennings Bradley said, “He looks at small things that affect people. He really cares. He’s like an old man in a young body. We got used to Donovan so we don’t want to lose him.”
Osina, an aide to state Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway) said in a speech to supporters that was replayed on NY1 News Wednesday morning, “While we are still uncertain of the total numbers, when every vote is counted, we will be victorious.”
In the afternoon, Osina put out a statement saying that more than 800 votes were still to be counted. He also thanked his opponents for running a clean, honest campaign, and pledged to work with them to better the community.