Considered one of the more politically potent Democratic neighborhoods in the city, Harlem has faced challenges from gentrification and other forces that have led to more diversity, but also a dissolution of concentrated Black power. 

What You Need To Know

  • Brian Benjamin vacated his state Senate seat when he became lieutenant governor

  • Three candidates are now running for that Harlem seat to replace Benjamin in the state senate

  • Because it’s a special election, the winner could face challengers in Democartic Primary next June

“The state Senator is effectively the largest elected official right now of the Harlem legacy, so it’s enormously important who takes that seat,” Lt. Gov. Benjamin said Wednesday.

Before becoming lieutenant governor this past summer, Brian Benjamin held the Senate seat since 2017. 

Now the race to replace Benjamin is underway. Since it’s a special election, there is no primary. Candidates are instead selected by party leaders. Cordell Cleare was given the Democratic ballot line. 

“I think the Senate is moving in the right direction, in terms of their response to the COVID pandemic,” Cleare said. “And also there are a number of tenant protection rights that I think the Senate has been working on that I am excited about. And I really want to get in there and see what we can do to create more support for affordable housing.”

Cleare faces a challenge from Shana Harmongoff, who once worked for Benjamin.

Harmongoff is running on the independent line she created, “Hope for NY.”

“One of the biggest concerns of mine is the drug situation that’s taking place on 125th Street,” Harmongoff said. “There are a lot of drug dealers from 125th Street and Lexington Avenue, all the Frederick Douglass, and nothing has been done over the years. And there is a huge population that has nowhere to go and they are homeless.”

The 30th District Senate seat covers most of Harlem, but also extends into East Harlem, up into Washington Heights and includes parts of the Upper West Side. As the demographics change, so has the leadership.

“We are going to have for the first time all female elected officials in the core Harlem seats: The Assembly, the Senate, and the City Council,” Benjamin. “That is a very different structure.”

Rounding out the race is Republican Oz Sultan. 

“For 20 years, under Republican leadership, we didn’t have major crime,” said Sultan. “But if you kind of look at where we are just the past two years through COVID, it’s a major, major problem.”

Every single seat in the state legislature is up for re-election next year, including this one, the 30th District Senate seat. That means that whoever wins the special election next month could face a crowded Democratic Primary next June.