Huntley Loses to Zinerman: Notes from Election Night

By Celia Bernhardt |

Huntley holds the Palestinian flag to cheers from staffers and volunteers while giving his concession speech. Credit: Celia Bernhardt

The air was tense in a local Bed-Stuy haunt where Eon Huntley’s team gathered on election night. Canvassers stood stiff around the bar, refreshing the election results repeatedly as ballot counts came in. It became clear fairly quickly that Huntley was not going to catch up to Assemblymember Stefani Zinerman’s lead. 

Stephen Wood, a volunteer with Huntley’s campaign, said he had already braced himself for such an outcome.  

“I mean, we always expect the establishment to pull out all the stops and throw the kitchen sink at us […] I don’t think in any DSA race in history people have gone into it thinking they’re gonna run away with it,” Wood said. “I think everyone probably comes into nights like this pretty much expecting… this, honestly. People have been around, anyway.”

Huntley, a political newcomer and upstart backed by the Democratic Socialists of America, campaigned hard for months in an attempt to unseat two-term incumbent Assemblymember Zinerman in Bed-Stuy’s Assembly District 56. The election was one of several hotly contested Assembly primaries in the city where Solidarity PAC, a pro-Israel group with significant real estate ties — as well as various Super PACs with charter school and real estate interests — spent heavily against DSA candidates. Huntley and his supporters were intensely critical of Zinerman’s funding. Zinerman, meanwhile, levied plenty of critiques about Huntley living technically just outside of the district’s boundaries and having a majority-white team of staffers. Power players in Black Brooklyn’s political establishment — Congressman Hakeen Jeffries, Attorney General Leitita James, and others — rallied strongly behind Zinerman, a moderate Democrat. 

The contentious battle for Central Brooklyn was ultimately decided by less than 8,200 ballots, with Zinerman winning approximately 500 more than Huntley.

Huntley arrived at the party to give a concession speech just before 11 p.m., entering the backyard of the bar to a wave of cheers from the crowd. In his speech, he took the opportunity to highlight the support his opponent had consolidated from Brooklyn’s political establishment. 

“Look how Hakeem Jeffries — a person I voted for before, to be clear — was shook! I never said nothing about this guy before, but he hates people that are to the left of him — us. People who are actually representing real working class politics,” Huntley said. 

Congressman Jeffries was deeply invested in preventing DSA victory within his district; the AD 56 race was often referred to as a “proxy battle” for Jeffries in media coverage, especially as DSA State Senator Jabari Brisport campaigned hard in support of Huntley. A mid-June article from Politico suggested that Congresswoman Alexandria Occasio-Cortez, who doled out multiple endorsements of DSA candidates in hot races around the city, withheld support for Huntley as a gesture of respect to Jeffries. 

Huntley spoke about Jeffries’ possible influence in no uncertain terms. 

“We had [Jeffries] against us, we had Tisch James,” Huntley continued. “He weighed in to line people up — to have AOC sit out. All these things and we still came this close.”

Brisport, a staunch ally of Huntley, was at the party. 

“We had a real opportunity to elect a people’s champion that is accountable to everyday people in the community, and not millionaires and billionaires,” he said. “I will always stand by candidates like that.”

In addition to opposition from Black Brooklyn power players, Huntley’s campaign may have suffered from the disproportionate whiteness of its staff — especially in an area like Bed-Stuy, where young white faces are synonymous with gentrification. That was a key criticism from Zinerman’s supporters as competition intensified. 

Huntley supporter Etophia Lane, who has lived in Bed-Stuy since 1987, said that Zinerman also had the advantage of more name recognition in the community. 

“Name recognition, and also friends — and she has a lot of family friends,” Lane said. “Alliances with churches.” 

Despite the defeat, Wood said he had plenty of hope for a different outcome in the future. 

“A lot of DSA successes and a lot of our bases of power are places where we didn’t get over 50% the first time,” Wood said. 

Towards the end of his speech, Huntley unfurled a Palestinian flag passed to him by a campaign staffer to chants and cheers from the crowd. 

Congressman Jamaal Bowman, who emphasized a progressive stance on Gaza in his race against George Latimer, had already suffered a bruising loss that night — undoubtedly a point of pain for the Huntley supporters in attendance. Huntley was adamant throughout his campaign that “Palestine is on the ballot,” and took plenty of opportunities to criticize Zinerman for accepting support from Solidarity PAC and remaining relatively quiet on the topic of Gaza. 

Asked whether politics remained in his future, Huntley answered in the affirmative.

“I truly believe in effecting change. I didn’t just run on a whim, so I’m not just gonna give up. I don’t know exactly what the future holds, but it’s very much about thinking about what I’ve done and building off those relationships, and thinking about how I can also try again to deliver for our community as an elected official,” Huntley said. 

“There’s no grand plan that’s already lined up in the future,” he added. “I mean, I gotta go to work next week. I am a retail worker.” 

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