Yesterday was a shining moment for all of us who support immigrant rights. Jack Martins, who had previously eschewed anti-immigrant messaging, tried to exploit bigotry just days before the Nassau County Executive election with his now infamous MS-13 flyer.
Martins had a slight 2-point lead in the polls at the time. Many Long Islanders were revolted by his naked attempt to exploit fear and racism to win votes, and Martins dropped down to defeat by a 3-percent margin.
Along with the disgust that voters felt seeing the flyer, it also served as potent mobilizer for the Latino vote in Nassau. A very similar flyer appeared in Suffolk County, with equally disastrous results.
In Westchester, incumbent County Executive Rob Astorino hoped he would secure the vote of the alt-right and Trump voters by vetoing an immigrant protection bill passed by the county legislature. The race had been listed by Politico as one of the tightest in the country, and Astorino hoped the veto would put him over the top. Instead of squeaking out a victory, Astorino was decisively beaten by more than 13 percentage points.
Politicians in New York were not the only ones to use racially charged advertising to try to boost their candidacies. Ed Gillespie, the former head of the Republican National Committee, staked his candidacy on ads exploiting fears of immigrants and defending white supremacist Confederate heritage. Gillespie demanded that Central American children fleeing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras be deported. He also devoted much of his advertising budget to television and internet ads depicting Latino immigrants as dangerous MS-13 members.
In Virginia, rather than fall for the white nationalist line, voters handed Gillespie a decisive 9-point defeat. They did not stop there. Virginians also elected the first Asian-American woman to the state legislature, as well as the first two Latinas.
In New Jersey, there was little hope that the next governor would be Chris Christie’s Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno, yet she still tried to salvage her candidacy by running on an anti-immigrant line. Her opponent, Phil Murphy, ran in the opposite direction. Instead of cowering, he advocated making New Jersey a sanctuary state.
New Jersey saw some of the worst xenophobic bigotry of any state in 2017. In the Edison Township, for example, flyers were distributed with photos of two candidates of Asian heritage with the word “Deport” over their faces. The two Asian-American candidates won their elections, and Kim Guadagno lost her election by 13 percent.