Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

State Senate District 23 - Staten Island/Brooklyn


Alfred B. Curtis (Rep/Ind/Con)
Diane Savino (Dem/WF)



Kelvin Alexander (Dem)
Alfred B. Curtis (Rep/Ind/Con)
Cole Ettman (Dem)
Rodney Knight (Dem)
Diane Savino (Dem/WF)


Torn Between Two Boroughs

The two ends of State Senate district 23 face very different problems. Forty-five percent of the district's area lies on the North Shore of Staten Island, where residents worry that overdevelopment threatens their quality of life. The remaining 55 percent of the district lies on the other side of the Verrazano Bridge in southwest Brooklyn, where most residents would like to see more development, not less.

But complaints about overcrowded schools and the quality of education unite both boroughs. According to the New York City Department of Education, the public high schools have far more students than they were intended for, with the St. George School operating at 171 percent of capacity. Schools in the southwest Brooklyn do not have it any better. A low graduation rate is another concern.

During his eight years in Albany, retiring four-term Democratic Senator Seymour Lachman often focused on education. He pushed for more money for public schools, promoted bilingual education and started the National Collaborative of Public and Nonpublic Schools, a group of educators from public and private schools who meet to coordinate programs and policies. With Lachman retiring to become a professor at Adelphi University, one Republican and four Democrats are vying to succeed him - and many share his interest in education.

One of the Democrats, Cole Ettman, said that installing air conditioning in classrooms, reducing class size and giving teachers more training and guidance will help improve schools.

Two other Democratic candidates, Kelvin Alexander and Diane Savino, want to improve opportunities for residents who do not go on to college. Alexander proposes an apprentice program to train youths in skilled labor like plumbing and carpentry. Savino wants to protect industrial zones from housing developers to preserve manufacturing jobs.

Republican Alfred Curtis and Democrat Rodney Knight could not be reached for this article.

Three of the candidates - Kelvin Alexander, Diane Savino and Alfred Curtis - live on Staten Island, while Cole Ettman and Rodney Knight reside in Brooklyn. But all the contenders will have to discuss development on Staten Island during the campaign.

Between 1990 and 2000, Staten Island's population rose by 17 percent, the most of any borough. This has caused overcrowding in schools, sent rents soaring and led to traffic gridlock. "It used to take me five minutes to drive down the road," said Kelvin Alexander. "Now I'm lucky if it only takes me a half hour."

This year, the Mayor's Staten Island Growth Management Task Force instituted a number of regulations to control development, such as requiring bigger parking spaces and yards for private residences, more plants and greenery on private roads and a limit on the size of row houses. But Diane Savino thinks more needs to be done. "The mayor's zoning laws prevent huge housing developments, but now we have to enforce those rules," she said. "If someone sees a developer building three houses instead of the two he's supposed to build, they should be able to call someone to report that." Savino proposes that there be a state-funded mechanism for residents to report zoning infractions.

Kelvin Alexander wants to prevent any additional development on the North Shore unless a new public facility, such as a school, hospital or community center, is also built. "I have a more holistic approach," he said. "I don't want any more houses being built when our schools are already overcrowded and our hospitals are closing." If elected, Alexander would also lobby for more money to fix the pothole-ridden roads he drives on every day.

Rather than restrict the development, Cole Ettman would like to ease its effects. "People have a right to build houses, and in the city there are not too many places left to build," he said. "Everyone has the right to move and live where they want to." But he would spend money to improve and maintain streets and sewers while the developers build.

Many Staten Islanders worry that health care has not kept up with the growth in their borough. In fact, one hospital - Bayley Seton - recently announced it would close. Rather than trying to force the Health and Hospitals Corporation to build a hospital on Staten Island, Diane Savino proposes that there be more funding for existing clinics to provide free walk-in programs. Kelvin Alexander wants money to build another hospital on the North Shore.

Increased industrial development on the North Shore has provided more job opportunities. Between 1994 and 2001, the governor's office reported, the number of jobs on the North Shore increased by 1,500.

But things are different in southwest Brooklyn. Overall, the number of manufacturing jobs in the borough dropped by almost 20 percent between 1995 and 2000, with the number of all jobs decreasing by 4.3 percent between 1987 and 2001. While Coney Island has new superstores like Toys "R" Us and Home Depot, the jobs they provide pay lower salaries and offer fewer benefits than manufacturing jobs.

To help the economy, Cole Ettman believes the government should foster "mom and pop" businesses, sheltering them from increased taxes and fines. Diane Savino said she would fight to have Albany allocate more funds to southwest Brooklyn for economic development.

Kelvin Alexander, Diane Savino and Cole Ettman have activist backgrounds. Savino has lobbied for the social service employees union, Local 371, and Alexander has worked for the Reverend Al Sharpton's National Action Network. Ettman has been involved with Council for Unity, an anti-violence program. Alfred Curtis worked for six years as the chief executive for operations of the United Nations Development Corporation.

The retiring Sen. Lachman supports Diane Savino, who has also received endorsements from Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum and District Council 37, the labor group that includes her Local 371 union.

UPDATE: Posted 10/13/04

The General Election race for State Senate district 23 has been narrowed down to two candidates: Democrat Diane Savino and Republican Al Curtis.

Curtis, who ran for the seat in 2002, said he is focusing more of his campaign efforts in Brooklyn than in his previous campaign. Curtis, who lives in Staten Island, has opened an office in Brooklyn and has spent time campaigning in Coney Island, Sunset Park, and Bensonhurst. He said he is also focusing on issues he thinks will unite voters in both boroughs.

"Affordable housing for seniors and affordable drugs - these are similar needs in Staten Island and Brooklyn," said Curtis.

Curtis also said he supports the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit that hopes to increase funding for New York City schools. If elected, he said he would reduce class size, replace outdated books, and provide adequate teacher training.

Curtis also has the support of Republicans like State Senator John Marchi and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and believes he can get more done in the Republican-controlled State Senate than Savino.

"Unlike my opponent, I can issue more than just proclamation and citation," said Curtis.

However, Savino has made reform of the State Legislature a major part of her campaign and does not believe a Republican can push the senate in the right direction.

"People have come to understand and develop the feeling that the government in Albany is in a shambles," Savino told the New York Times. "And they understand that this dysfunctionality has hurt New York City in terms of school funding, health care and affordable housing."


Kelvin Alexander is a retired police sergeant, producer of his own cable television show, and national field director for Reverend Sharpton's National Action Network.

Alfred B. Curtis was commissioner for New York City Department of Youth Services under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. He has served as the president and chief executive officer of the United Nations Development Corporation. A former president of the Staten Island Branch of the NAACP, Curtis also served on the Board Trustees of the City University of New York.

Cole Ettman was deputy chief of staff for former City Councilmember Howard Lasher. He has also served as public affairs director for Council for Unity, a violence prevention program for youths located at John Dewey High School.

Rodney Knight is a community aide for Brooklyn City Councilman Domenic Recchia. He grew up in Coney Island.

Diane Savino is vice president for political action and legislative affairs for Local 371 Social Services Employee Union. She is also the executive committee member of the Richmond County Democratic Committee and recent appointee to the Queens College Advisory Board.


Diane Savino, a former official of District Council 37, the largest municipal union in the city, can expect to win the bulk of the labor movement in her candidacy save one vital group. The most conspicuous defection from the labor ranks is that of Dennis Rivera and his hospital workers union, Local 1199, who have supported Republican Al Curtis. The race between between Curtis and Savino could thus hinge on the mobilization and voter turnout of this key group. So far, Rivera has donated more than $50,000 to New York Forward, a political arm of state Senator Joseph Bruno, the Republican majority leader who is backing Republican candidates throughout the state. Savino, however, insisted to Newsday that "Change begins incrementally. Even the 'three men in a room' [the governor, the assembly speaker and senate majority leader] are realizing they can't continue doing business as usual." (Newsday)

Republican candidate for state Senate Al Curtis attacked his opponent Democrat Diane Savino yesterday for being a political opportunist and for not being involved in the community. Curtis contends that Savino moved to the area in order to run for office. He told the Staten Island advance "Three years is just not enough," he said. "You need a few more years under your belt. She just does not know the community." (Staten Island Advance)

Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro announced his support for Republican candidate Alfred Curtis for a North Shore state Senate seat. This endorsement comes two years after Molinaro and his Conservative party backed Curtis' previous opponent, Democratic state Senator Seymour Lachman, for the same office. (Staten Island Advance)

Last week, prominent Republicans gathered to endorse Alfred Curtis, the Republican candidate for a State Senate seat that straddles a section of Staten Island and a part of Brooklyn. In an effort to win the seat back from a Democratic stronghold, the Republican party and members such as Joseph L. Bruno, the majority leader of the State Senate, and State Senator John J. Marchi, have shown significant support. The party has provided large amounts of sums along with advisors in order to ensure a victory in a district with a traditional Democratic advantage. Mr. Curtis contends that voters should vote for a senator in the Republican majority who could get bills passed once in office. (NY Times)

Democratic candidate for State Senate Diane Savino, a Fort Wadsworth labor leader, seeks to shake things up in Albany. On Monday, she endorsed a plan by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law school. The plan seeks to reform the New York State Legislature, which the center describes as dysfunctional. Trying to reducing government exclusivity, the plan calls for more input from rank-and-file lawmakers and a more open forum when passing bills in special committees. ( Staten Island Advance)

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno expressed his support for Republican candidate Al Curtis once again last night. Curtis attacked his opponent, Democrat Diane Savino, by comparing her to Senator Hilary Clinton, who moved to New York state to run for office. Savino, however, contends that she has lived in the district three times longer than Curtis, who moved only last year to the district. She also attacked the endorsement Curtis received from Bruno. If Curtis wins he will be the Senate GOP majority's first black lawmaker and the first African-American elected to public office from Staten Island. (Staten Island Advance)

State Senator John Marchi endorsed fellow Republican Al Curtis for state Senate. Marchi continues his run as the longest serving state lawmaker in U.S. history by running unopposed this year. Marchi claims he and Curtis would be a powerful team. "Having the two of us in the majority gives New York a lot of clout, a lot of strength," said Curtis. (Staten Island Advance)

Former State Comptroller H. Carl McCall backed Diane Savino yesterday in the latest of a string of endorsements. McCall calls Savino young and dynamic, stating that is exactly what Albany needs right now. An African-American, McCall also claims that this campaign has nothing to do with race while being chastised by Kelvin Alexander, also African-American, for not “feeling the sense of history” he felt when McCall ran for governor. (Staten Island Advance)

Diane Savino gets a vote of confidence from lady lawmakers Senators Ada Smith (D-Queens), Liz Kruger (D-Manhattan) and Toby Ann (D-Queens). Gathering on the steps of City Hall, the three senators publically endorsed Savino, citing that if more women were elected to the Senate, perhaps dysfunction and gridlock would subside. Women make up only 18 percent of the Senate, however total 52 percent of New York State’s population, said the senators. ( Staten Island Advance)

Diane Savino's state Senate campaign received a boost yesterday from three current female state senators, who said an influx of women legislators could help reverse the dysfunction and gridlock that plague male-dominated Albany. Sens. Ada Smith (D-Queens), Liz Kruger (D-Manhattan) and Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Queens) gathered on the steps of City Hall yesterday to publicly endorse the candidacy of Ms. Savino, who is running for the 23rd Senate District seat being vacated by state Sen. Seymour Lachman (D-North Shore/Brooklyn).(Staten Island Advance)

A Democratic Party member has objected to state Senate candidate Al Curtis' nomination on the Conservative line, charging that Curtis will not have lived in the district for the requisite 12 months by this Election Day. Board of Elections records indicate that Curtis, the Republican Party candidate for the 23rd state Senate seat, was living at an address in Willowbrook when he voted in the general election on Nov. 4, 2003. The home is located in the 24th Senate District, which is represented by state Sen. John Marchi (R-Staten Island). (Staten Island Advance)

After internal politics threatened to derail the process, union official Diane Savino of Rosebank has received the endorsement of her home union, District Council 37, in her campaign for the state Senate. Ms. Savino is the political director for Local 371 of the Social Service Employees Union, which falls under the DC 37 umbrella. Backed by the Staten Island and Brooklyn Democratic Party organizations, Ms. Savino is running for the seat being vacated by state Sen. Seymour Lachman (D-North Shore/Brooklyn). (Staten Island Advance)

This year, the “incumbency protection program” that keeps New York legislators in office is being tested as a number of competitive races, particularly for the state Senate where the Republicans are a long-standing majority. Some of the races to look for will be the 23rd district, considered a “safe” Democratic seat, with Savino the likely candidate for the Democrats; the 28th district, also an overwhelmingly Democratic district, with Democrat-turned-Republican Olga Mendez challenged by Democrat Jose M. Serrano; 34th District with an open seat left by Guy Velella after he resigned and pleaded guilty to bribery. (Times Union)

Yesterday, New York State Senator Seymour P. Lachman officially endorsed the union leader Diane Savino to succeed him in the assembly. The senator also announced that upon retirement in December he will switch professional gears to become a professor at Adelphi University in Nassau County. Lachman praised Savino by saying, "she has the energy, she has the intelligence, she has the integrity and she has the experience to be state senator." Savino faces Kelvin Alexander, a retired NYPD detective, for the Democratic endorsement. Alfred Curtis, who ran and lost in 2002 against Lachman, is the presumptive candidate for the Republican party in the upcoming election. (Staten Island Advance)

The Al Curtis campaign for state Senate got a boost from another Curtis last night. Guardian Angels founder and talk radio host Curtis Silwa said Curtis had been a "voice of calm and reason" during racially charged times on Staten Island. (Staten Island Advance)

Alfred Curtis, who is running for District 23 seat in the New York State Senate, was decreed with an honoree degree from the Medgar Evers College system for his accomplishments, community service and aid to the CUNY system. At the end of the ceremony, Curtis awarded the school with a check from the Richmond County Savings Bank Foundation, of which he is a board member, to be used for student scholarships. (Staten Island Advance)


After a decade in the state legislature, State Senator Seymour Lachman is returning to his academic roots. This month the Borough Park Democrat, whose 23rd District covers parts of southwest Brooklyn and the North Shore of Staten Island, informed party officials on both sides of his bridge decision to retire. (Daily News)

State Senator Seymour P. Lachman (D), said yesterday that he would not run for re-election this year, citing "a variety of personal and family reasons" for leaving his seat. Kelvin Alexander, a former police officer who has a cable television program on Staten Island, has already announced plans to run for Lachman's seat. Diane Savino, the political director for the Social Service Employees Union Local 371 and a political ally of the Staten Island Democratic Chairman Assemblyman John W. Lavelle, is also planning to run as a democrat for the seat. Meanwhile, the executive committee of the Republican Party in Staten Island has pledged support to Alfred B. Curtis Jr., the former commissioner of youth services under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Mr. Curtis ran against Lachman two years ago for the seat and received 36 percent of the vote. (NY Times)

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

Eye on Albany Campaign 2004 home





















Print Friendly and PDF

Editor's Choice

Gotham Gazette: New York Voters Approve $4.2 Billion Environmental Bond Act
New York Voters Approve $4.2 Billion Environmental Bond Act
Gotham Gazette: 
New York City Voters Approve Racial Justice Ballot Measures
New York City Voters Approve Racial Justice Ballot Measures
Gotham Gazette: Max Politics Podcast: A Winning Formula for Democrats in Tough New York Races
Max Politics Podcast: A Winning Formula for Democrats in Tough New York Races
Gotham Gazette: Max Politics Podcast Max Politics Podcast