Eye on Albany 2004 Home

State Senate District 34 - Bronx/Westchester

CANDIDATES:
Michelle Andrews (WF)
Stephen Kaufman (Rep/Ind/Con)
Jeffrey Klein (Dem)
John Fleming (Rep/Con)
Egidio Sementilli (Dem)

CAMPAIGN FEATURE:

Filling a Criminal's Shoes

In New York, it seems the only way to defeat an incumbent politician is to put him in jail.

For 28 years, Guy Velella, a powerful Bronx Republican who served in both the New York State Assembly and Senate and as the chairman of the Bronx Republican party, was untouchable. Velella had a reputation of bringing millions of dollars in state aid to the Bronx, doling out political favors, and redrawing district lines in his favor - and he rarely faced a serious challenger.

Even a criminal investigation into whether Velella took bribes from companies seeking contracts to paint the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge did not slow the veteran state senator.

With an investigation underway, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani still campaigned with him, Mayor Michael Bloomberg attended his fundraisers, and Republican State Senators - including Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno - donated $150,000 from their campaign funds to help pay his legal fees.

And voters in an overwhelmingly Democratic district reelected Republican Velella in 2000 and 2002, even after he had been indicted.

"Everybody's a crook," said Riverdale voter Ed Brennan after the 2002 election. "They all steal. I don't care."

Velella's legacy finally ended this year when the senator pled guilty to taking money from people bidding to paint bridges for the state. Velella is currently serving a one-year sentence at Riker's Island.

Yet the imprisoned senator still hangs over the campaign to fill the open seat in a horseshoe-shaped district that encompasses the north and east Bronx and parts of southern Westchester. Five different candidates want to reassure voters that they, like their predecessor, will be able to get results for the Bronx.

"Guy Velella delivered for the district, there is no question about that," said Jeffrey Klein, a Bronx Democratic Assemblymember who is leaving his seat to run for the open senate seat. "And I can deliver for the district as well."

Klein, who has been in the State Legislature since 1994, said if elected he will make things like increasing school funding and raising the minimum wage his priorities. He also acknowledges that in light of Velella's conviction and persistent gridlock in Albany, the system needs reform.

"The only means of reform we have is the Democrats," said Klein. "And first and foremost, I am the real Democrat in this race."

Klein's main opponent is Democratic Bronx Assemblymember Stephen Kaufman, who is also giving up his seat to run in the open race. Kauffman was first elected to the State Legislature in 1998 and previously served for eight years in the New York City Council.

Kaufman calls himself the "independent, unbossed, and unsupervised" candidate, and will run on the Republican, Conservative, and Independence party primaries. He also has a history of bucking the Democratic establishment. In 2000, he was part of a failed attempt to unseat Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver from his position.

Much of Kaufman's support now comes from Republicans like Governor George Pataki, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and State Senate Leader Joseph Bruno, who have all endorsed him.

But while Klein faults Kauffman for not being a real Democrat, another opponent criticizes Kauffman for not being a real Republican.

John Flemming, a former police detective who also performed security for Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, said he is running to bring Republican solutions to the area's problems.

"I think the Republican Party has gone too far to the left," said Flemming. "I believe in a two party system."

Flemming said if elected he will focus on tax reform, controlling Medicaid costs, and getting homeland security funding for New York. "With my background in law enforcement, I believe I can lobby at the federal and state level to get more money for homeland security," he said.

Also running is Democrat Egidio Sementilli, a marketing specialist and head of local day care center, who criticizes both Klein and Kaufman for being part of the political problem in Albany.

"Collectively they spent 30 years in Albany," said Sementilli, "and what would they differently do now that they could not have done already? What did they do on school aid? What have they done about taxes?"

Sementilli said he would expand day care services, force Mayor Michael Bloomberg to give the current surplus back to tax payers, and put an end to "politicians paying off people with bogus projects" like a plan to replace the City Island bridge.

Whoever wins in November will have to navigate both city and suburban politics because the district straddles both the Bronx and Westchester. And even the Bronx sections in the district have widely different needs. Riverdale, in the northwest part of the Bronx, is one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city, while sections like Soundview are among the poorest.

Both Kaufman and Klein point to their local accomplishments as proof that they can serve the whole district. Klein said he established a 1-800 number for graffiti, hosted annual events to address asthma, and organized clean-up events across the area. Kaufman said he helped save schools for handicapped children from budget cuts, stopped a gas pipeline from cutting through the Pelham Bay neighborhood, and drafted bills against illegal dumping.

But the main issue for all the candidates may be to reassure voters them that the Bronx will not suffer now that Guy Velella is in jail.

"People are sad [about the conviction] because a lot of people liked him," said Kaufman. "But they are also concerned that the area won't get the funding it once did."

Working Families Party candidate Michelle Andrews did not return phone calls for this article.

CANDIDATE BIOGRAPHIES

Michelle Andrews (no information available).

John Fleming works as a vice president in a security and investigation firm in New York and a real estate firm based in Long Island. He is a retired police detective who coordinated security operations for Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. He has worked on mayoral and congressional campaigns, and served as Public Safety Coalition director for Senator John McCain's 2000 Presidential campaign.

Stephen Kaufman has represented the 82nd Assembly District in the Bronx since 1998. He served in the New York City Council from 1974 to 1982. He is a lawyer at Alpert & Kaufman.

Jeffrey Klein has represented the 80th Assembly District in the Bronx since 1994. He has worked as chief-of-staff for Congressman James Scheuer and as a Democratic state committeeman and district leader.

Egidio Sementilli has been a long time activist and volunteer in the Bronx, working on several local election campaigns. He ran for State Assembly in 1998. He has been a member of Community Board 6, while also doing volunteer work for the Belmont community.

CAMPAIGN TRAIL

07/09/04 As a commanding state senator from the Bronx, Guy J. Velella worked the corridors of power in Albany for nearly three decades, serving constituents and, occasionally, himself. Since pleading guilty last month to conspiring to take bribes, however, Velella, negotiates a sullen concrete corridor on Rikers Island to his new jailhouse job: He is a commissary clerk dispensing candy, chips and toiletries to other inmates from behind a plexiglass barricade. (NYTimes)

07/09/04 A rare pitched battle for an open State Senate seat in the Bronx drew political heavyweights out yesterday to endorse a candidate running for the seat vacated by the disgraced Guy J. Velella. In a sign of the intensifying battle and the importance attached by the parties to controlling that seat, two Democratic rivals from the 2001 mayoral campaign, Mark Green and Fernando Ferrer, praised Assemblyman Jeffrey Klein, calling him a "real Democrat" and portrayed Mr. Klein's opponent in the Democratic primary, Assemblyman Stephen B. Kaufman, as a tool of Republicans. (NY Times)

06/22/04 The second district where the Democrats are concentrating their efforts covers the northern Bronx and a portion of Westchester County. In that district, Guy J. Velella, the veteran Bronx Republican, resigned from the State Senate last month and pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring to take bribes. Republicans are so unsure of winning that seat that they are planning to support a Democratic assemblyman who will seek the nomination of both parties and then join the Republican caucus if he is elected. (NY Times)

06/15/04 The thing that is wrong with politics is the thing that is wrong with Stephen Kaufman, who has been a Bronx City Council member and an Assemblyman for more than 30 years. He is the emblem of a bad breed. Term limits was invented for do-nothing drones like him. What makes Mr. Kaufman relevant is that he is running for the state Senate seat vacated by Republican Guy Velella, who has pleaded guilty to bribery charges. Mr. Kaufman is running in both the Democratic Party primary and as a Republican in the general election. A few years ago, Mr. Kaufman condemned nonpartisan elections, saying, "I'm against that parties stand for something." (The New York Sun.)

06/11/04 With powerful GOP state Senator Guy Velella resigning after a bribery conviction, the borough has lost a key player who delivered funding and legislation in the Republican-controlled upper house. But two state Senate races are shaping up as Republican-tinged with the Democratic contenders arguing they could fill the Velella gap. (Daily News)

06/10/04 With Assemblyman Stephen Kaufman, who currently represents the 82nd Assembly District, and Assemblyman Jeff Klein, who currently represents the 80th Assembly District, considered the two main contenders for the Senate seat vacated last month by Guy Velella, the coming weeks and months should prove quite interesting in terms of who is or isn't running for office in the Bronx this November. (Bronx Times Reporter)

06/1/04 Thanks to Republican power broker Guy Velella's guilty plea to bribery charges last month, voters in his 34th Senatorial District in the Bronx and Westchester were denied the opportunity to hear the unguarded, innermost thoughts of their longtime elected official, as captured on bugs placed by state police investigators on the former senator's phones. But now that the race to succeed the eight-term senator is already hot and heavy, with candidates battling to claim ownership rights to the Velella legacy, a brief glimpse into some of the things that were weighing on the former senator's mind in recent years might be enlightening. (Village Voice)

05/27/04 Bronx Democratic Party Leader Jose Rivera also said yesterday that the party is backing Assemblyman Jeff Klein (D-Pelham Parkway) over his fellow Assemblyman Steve Kaufman (D-East Bronx) for the Bronx/Westchester state Senate seat vacated by Republican Guy Velella, who pleaded guilty this month in a bribery case. (NY Times)

05/27/04 Westchester Republicans voted overwhelmingly last night to support a Bronx Democrat, Assemblyman Stephen Kaufman, for the state Senate seat vacated this month by GOP stalwart Guy Velella. (The Journal News)

05/27/04 In what is quickly becoming the year's most interesting local political campaign, Assemblymen Stephen Kaufman and Jeffrey Klein will both compete for the State Senate seat vacated last week by Guy Velella, and Kaufman will also seek the Republican Party nomination. (Bronx Times Reporter)

05/25/04 Assemblyman Jeffrey Klein of the Bronx formally announced his candidacy for state Senate yesterday, setting up at least a three-person Democratic primary for the seat vacated by former state Sen. Guy Velella. (The Journal News)

05/24/04 With Guy Velella knocked out of the state Senate by a felony conviction, Republicans are weighing endorsing a Democratic assemblyman to run for his seat in the Bronx. Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, in the strongest signal yet that Republicans are wooing conservative Assemblyman Stephen Kaufman to switch parties and run for the seat, last week called him "extremely capable." (New York Daily News)

05/21/04 The total failure of leadership by the Republicans and Democrats who are supposed to be running New York's state government often escapes the notice of average citizens. Lately, however, the corrupt nature of Albany's political culture has surfaced in unusually vivid ways, perhaps giving voters an idea of how morally and intellectually bankrupt the Capitol scene really is. Republican senators lost the powerful chairman of their Campaign Committee last week when Guy Velella quit the Senate, then pleaded guilty to a bribery-related charge. The Senate majority leader, Joseph Bruno, and 19 other Republicans had coughed up more than $150,000 from their various campaign funds to help pay Mr. Velella's legal bills. (NY Times)

05/18/04 The first time Guy Velella, the now disgraced ex-state senator, realized he might be in trouble was in early 2000. On February 11 that year he placed an urgent call to Vincent Velella, his father and law partner. (Village Voice)

05/16/04 Assemblyman Jeffrey Klein, D-Bronx, who has been raising funds for the 2006 state attorney general race, said he was seriously considering running for the 34th Senate District, which includes parts of the Bronx, Mount Vernon, New Rochelle and Yonkers, as well as all of Pelham and Eastchester. (The Journal News)

05/16/04 Bronx Democrats are lining up to vie for the state Senate seat vacated Friday by veteran Republican Guy Velella, who is expected to plead guilty tomorrow to bribery charges. (Daily News)

Learn More:
Albany's Dysfunction
Blame Albany
How Albany Controls New York City
Will Albany Scandals Lead to Reform?
Albany Rules?
Upstate Downstate Debate