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More Elections, Less Suspense
June 9th, 2011

Correction: As a reader points out, there is a fourth open Assembly seat: the one previously held by Audrey Pheffer, who let the legislature to become Queens County clerk. The post has been corrected and material about Pheffer’s seat added.

Less than 24 hours after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Assemblymember Jonathan Bing’s appointment as special deputy superintendent of the New York Liquidation Bureau, City Hall reported that Democrat Daniel Quart, a community board member and lawyer, is the frontrunner for the seat from Manhattan’s 73rd Assembly District.

With the election not even scheduled yet, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, whose congressional district includes Bing’s Assembly district, assured City Hall that Quart will be the candidate.

No disrespect of Quart intended but the rapid development underscores once again the rather undemocratic nature of special elections — especially those in districts, such as this one, where one party holds a lopsided edge.

More on threefour Assembly vacancies and how they’ll be filled after the jump.

When a vacancy occurs in the legislature, the governor can decide to call a special election to fill it (otherwise the seat remains open until the next election). There is though, no primary — just a general election. The party nominees are selected by the committee of that party — a small group of insiders. (For more details on how it works, go here) A candidate can get on the ballot without a party nod but anyone trying that route faces daunting odds.

In theory, voters then choose between the candidates of the parties and any determined independents. But in a district like this one — where Democrats hold an overwhelming edge — voters wield a rubber stamp. It’s — on a small scale — the kind of election Hosni Mubarak used to run.

By the time the next election rolls around, the new member of the legislature has all the advantages of incumbency and an almost certain path to re-election and a long career in Albany. (Ninety-six percent of New York City legislators who sought re-election won another term in 2010, supposedly an “anti-incumbent year.)

Not surprisingly then, special elections have become a standard route to the Capitol. According to figures compiled by Citizens Union (which publishes Gotham Gazette) several years ago, 32 percent of the current members of the State Assembly and 29 percent of state senators first won their seats in a special election.

The technique is so entrenched that its thought some members wait until after the election to step aside expressly to ensure that party insiders, not ordinary New Yorkers, would select their successor.

In addition to Bing’s post, two other Assembly seats from the city currently are vacant with no special elections scheduled.

In northern Queens, Assemblymember Nettie Mayersohn announced her retirement less than six months after she had been re-elected. This has apparently paved the way for her longtime chief of staff, Mike Simanowitz, to get the job. Simanowitz is one of four Democratic district leaders who get to choose their party’s nominee.

Republicans, though, have said they might field a candidate as well.

Given that Mayersohn’s spokesperson said the 87-year-old veteran legislator was leaving to spend time with her family — and not because of any health emergency say, one could wonder why she did not make this decision before last year’s election –rather than several months after.

Also in Queens, the 23rd Assembly District (Howard Beach, Ozone Park, Far Rockaway) has been vacant since Audrey Pfeffer stepped down to become Queens County clerk. Here, too, the Democratic Party appears to have a tight grip on who gets the post. Originally Pfeffer’s aide Joann Shapiro had been interested in the job, but the Daily News reported last week, she has decided not to pursue the post. That left the party establishment’s pick, Philip Goldfeder, an aide to Sen. Charles Schumer, as the likely Democratic candidate. Jane Deacy, a former police officer, is likely to be the Republican candidate.

In Brooklyn, Darryl Towns left his seat in the 54th Assembly District (Bushwick, East New York Cypress Hills to join the Cuomo administration. And this one is shaping up as a bit of a horserace. Three candidates — each with support from a different faction are hoping to get the partys nod or, if not that, the voters’ blessing: Deirdra Towns, the former Assembly member’s sister and daughter of the district’s U.S. Rep. Edolphus Towns; Jesus Gonzalez, an organizer with Make the Road New York, an advocacy group for immigrants; and Rafael Espinal, chief of staff for City Councilmember Erik Martin Dilan.

Brooklyn party boss Vito Lopez has backed Espinal, Brooklyn Politics reports, while Gonzalez has been lining up support from the Working Families Party and from anti-Lopez forces (often characterized as reformers) including U.S. Rep. Nydia Velzaquez, and New Kings Democrats.

Meanwhile Towns has managed to raise $50,000 and is holding a fundraiser featuring former Gov. David Paterson tonight.

Espinal is most likely to get the Democratic Party endorsement, according to Brooklyn politics, so this one could go to the voters — a rarity in special elections.

By on June 9, 2011, 2:51 pm
In category: Albany,Electoral Politics,Eye on Albany,Governing | Comments Off

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Gotham Gazette is published by Citizens Union Foundation and is made possible by support from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Altman Foundation,the Fund for the City of New York and donors to Citizens Union Foundation. Please consider supporting Citizens Union Foundation's public education programs. Critical early support to Gotham Gazette was provided by the Charles H. Revson Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

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