A close race in District 13: Mark Gjonaj wins the Democratic Party nomination

He heads toward November with the potential of becoming the first Albanian-American elected to the New York City Council


Ruben Avxhiu

Mark Gjonaj came out as the winner in a five-way race in the Democratic Primary of District 13, for the New York City Council.
He was the last victor of a long Tuesday night. In two other races, the counting continued through the night as they were too close to call.
The first Albanian-American to secure the nomination of the Democratic Party in this level, Gjonaj led early after the polls closed, but his lead was relatively slim and his celebration party has to wait until past 11:00 PM, when it became clear that Marjorie Velasquez could not reach him anymore.
Gjonaj won with 38.7% of the vote, followed by Velazquez with 34.4%, John Doyle 19.1%, Victor Ortiz 4.8%, and Egidio Sementilli with 3.0%.
A son of immigrants who started his way by doing menial jobs in very early age, he represents a great American story. Nevertheless, he faced a very ugly campaign, which included hits below the belt by all the city’s main newspapers, including The New York Times. At one point, a branch of Planned Parenthood distributed fliers comparing him to Donald Trump. Superficial media reports presented him as part of some “middle-way” Democrats fighting Mayor Bill de Blasio’s wing in the party. In fact, the Mayor who also won his own primary did not endorse any of Gjonaj’s rivals. The ideological affiliations were false. Moreover the Albanian-American candidate was endorsed by an impressive list of unions, the Democratic Party of the Bronx, the President of the Borough, Ruben Diaz Jr, Governor Andrew Cuomo etc.
Gjonaj chose to respond to his critics by running a positive and dynamic campaign, with numerous daily meetings with countless of citizens from the district, where he grew up and has contributed as a businessman and activist for decades.
“By working together we can accomplish so much more. Instead of tearing each other down, we must focus on ways to build our communities up,” he said in his winning speech.
If Gjonaj wins in November, he’ll make history twice for the Albanian-American community in New York. Five years ago, he became the first State Assemblyman of Albanian descent. Now in his third term in the Assembly, he may do it again as the first Albanian-American member of the New York City Council.