No matter how you cut it up, there’s always one consistency in the city’s recent history of absentee ballot voting: the East Side 137th District, the epicenter of Latino politics, leads all neighborhoods. Of the more than 1,000 absentee ballots mailed citywide by the Town Clerk’s Office as of Thursday covering 9 of 10 districts with Democratic primaries for City Council on September 12, about 30 percent occupy the battle between party-endorsed Aidee Nieves and Maria Valle and challengers Hector Diaz and Milta Feliciano.
This race intrigues on several levels including split incumbency. Nieves, an incumbent running with former councilor from the district Valle; Feliciano an incumbent teaming with Police Commissioner Diaz, the former State House member who has deep roots in the district. His late dad was the long-time town clerk.
In a race like this, party endorsement doesn’t mean much. It’s all about identifying your friends and dragging them out. Unless, of course, they’ve filled out an absentee ballot.
Four years ago, the last off-cycle primary season, endorsed candidates Nieves and Valle teamed up challenged by Feliciano and Lydia Martinez, the district’s queen of absentee ballots, who is now city clerk.
In 2013, absentee ballots saved the day for Feliciano and Martinez. Nieves and Valle both won on the machines at Marin and Barnum school precincts. At Marin School, Nieves and Valle had 195 and 194 votes respectively to Feliciano’s 152 and Martinez’s 175, according to returns from the Registrar’s Office. At Barnum School it was 141 for Nieves, 151 Valle, 124 Feliciano, 122 Martinez. But the absentee ballot count put Martinez over the top. She ran up 80 absentee ballots at Marin and 69 at Barnum School. Martinez and Feliciano had roughly twice as many absentee ballot votes as Valle and Nieves.
Feliciano and Valle were both tied with 424 total unofficial votes. In the recount, however, Feliciano, the city’s director of Veteran’s Affairs, won by one vote picked up at Barnum School.
And so, every vote matters, right? And in the 137th District, often decided by absentee ballots.