NEW YORK — Nearly a century after New York’s legislature expelled all its socialist members for “disloyalty,” voters in Brooklyn are sending one back to the capital after a bruising primary in which her political message was obscured by embarrassing revelations about her personal life and questions about whether she embellished her biography.
Julia Salazar, 27, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, handily beat an eight-term incumbent, Sen. Martin Dilan, Thursday in a Democratic primary for a state Senate seat.
The win allowed Salazar to join the ranks of leftist insurgents nationwide who have knocked out mainstream Democrats. It also showed that voters in her Brooklyn district were willing to look past a barrage of unflattering news reports that questioned her life story, outed her as a sexual assault victim, and — in maybe the strangest twist — revealed that as a college student she was accused of attempted bank fraud by the by estranged wife of baseball great Keith Hernandez.
“This is a victory for all of us who believe that a better world is possible … that we’re going to build a New York that works for the many and not just for the few,” she told supporters at her victory party.
There is no Republican candidate running in the district in the general election, virtually guaranteeing her the seat.
Her victory came on a night when primary voters in New York also took their revenge on a splinter group of Democratic state senators who broke with the party to join a group that supported Republican control of the chamber.
Six of the eight members of the Senate’s now-defunct Independent Democratic Conference were ousted in party primaries Thursday — a sign that liberal voters in New York are unwilling to tolerate collusion with Republicans in the age of President Donald Trump.
Those insurgent victories were a consolation prize for candidates at the top of the left-wing’s ticket in the state’s primary, who lost races for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.
“Your victories tonight have shown that the blue wave is real and it’s not only coming for Republicans, but for the Democrats who act like them,” said Cynthia Nixon, who lost her bid to unseat Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Dilan, 67, was not among the renegade Senate Democrats, but he represented a district that has gone through major changes, with longtime residents being pushed out by rising rents and an influx of mostly white, wealthier newcomers.
Salazar built a grassroots campaign to unseat him on the grounds that he hadn’t done enough to help the poor or stop gentrification.
Her campaign attracted wide attention after fellow Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez scored a surprise win in June’s congressional primary over U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley in New York.
But in recent weeks, her policy proposals were drowned out by questions about her life story.
Salazar faced criticism for telling interviewers she was an immigrant from Colombia when she was actually born in Florida, for describing herself as coming from a working-class background when she was comfortably middle class, and for saying she had a degree from Columbia University, which she attended but did not graduate from.
She was scrutinized, too, over a political and religious conversion during her years at Columbia University, where she transformed from an anti-abortion Christian Republican to a hard-left Jewish Democrat.
Salazar said she “inadvertently misrepresented” her family’s history.
Then, reporters revealed that in 2011, when she was in college, Salazar was arrested after a Florida neighbor — the estranged wife of former New York Met Hernandez — accused her of trying to get access to her bank account while she was housesitting.
The charges were dropped and Salazar then filed a lawsuit accusing Hernandez’s wife, Kai Hernandez, of trying to frame her. Kai Hernandez settled for $20,000.
Two days before the election, a conservative news site, The Daily Caller, told the Salazar campaign it was about to publish a story identifying her as a woman who had anonymously accused a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of sexual assault.
Saying she didn’t want to be “outed,” Salazar tweeted about it, saying the Netanyahu aide, David Keyes, had bullied her into an unwanted sex act.
That revelation prompted other women to come forward and accuse Keyes of sexually aggressive behavior. He denied the allegations and said that Salazar had been “repeatedly dishonest about her own life” but took a leave of absence after several female Israeli lawmakers called upon Netanyahu to suspend him.
By DEEPTI HAJELA, Associated Press