New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio this weekend cancelled the special election for Queens Borough President over COVID-19, or novel coronavirus, during a press conference yesterday.
The election, which had been set to occur on March 24 with early voting beginning on March 14, was to see who would hold the position come the end of current Queens Borough President Melinda Katz’s term in 2021.
Katz resigned at the end of last year to become the borough’s new district attorney. The position is currently being held by Acting Queens Borough President Sharon Lee.
Some candidates for the position called for absentee voting in light of the current situation, while others supported the idea of postponing the election altogether.
Ultimately, de Blasio went with the latter approach, saying that it was the safest option, because polls could become crowded and aid in the spread of the virus.
“There’s been a lot of concern raised about the election day and the, all of the experiences, particularly the poll workers would have to have to make this work,” de Blasio said. “And as we have seen more and more challenges, you know, this is another one is very painful, honestly, in a democratic society, the canceling of an election is such a rarity. It should be avoided at all costs. But in this case with the nature of this crisis, I’ve come to the decision that it’s necessary.”
The borough president seat is being contested by six different candidates: Councilmembers Donovan Richards (D-Arverne, Brookville, Edgemere, Far Rockaway, Laurelton, Rosedale, Springfield Gardens) and Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Woodside), Elizabeth Crowley, Jim Quinn, Anthony Miranda and Dao Yin.
“The health, safety, and stability of Queens is most important,” Constantinides said in a press release about the situation. “While we’re grateful to everyone who came out to vote early this weekend, we respect the Mayor’s decision to suspend the special election. I know my colleagues and I will continue to put the well being of Queens residents first in these challenging weeks ahead. This is a time when we all need to come together.”
This is a shared sentiment among the candidates.
“Elections are an integral part of our democracy,” Richards said in his own press release. “There is no easy way to put one on hold, however we cannot risk the health and safety of voters and our poll workers in this moment. Many of our most vulnerable are the ones who always come out to vote or spend the day working our poll sites. It would be irresponsible to make them decide whether they want to take the risk and vote or stay at home and remain safe. This is a profoundly difficult moment for our city, and cancelling this election to protect our communities and focus on fighting back against the spread of COVID-19 is the right thing to do. I thank Mayor de Blasio for taking action today on this issue.”
Just a day earlier, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order to reduce the amount of petition signatures candidates would need in order to get onto the ballot for the upcoming elections.
The order said that candidates would only need to meet 30% of the requirement to qualify, but it also shorted the amount of time that they would have to reach that number. The petition period will end on March 17.
This will affect candidates running for state assembly, state senate and U.S. Congress.
“I don’t want to feel responsible for someone going door to door and getting exposed to the virus,” Assemblymember Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale) was quoted as saying in an article from The New York Post. “Some people have called me and said they are worried.”