Mr. Lancman had hoped that Mr. Ackerman would in the end decide to retire, but when he didn’t, he realized that there was no path to victory, and so after pulling an all-night budget-passing session in Albany, he got in the car and drove to Mr. Ackerman’s house in Roslyn, Long Island. They spent several hours together, with Mr. Ackerman regaling Mr. Lancman with tales of Congress and foreign trips abroad and telling him how much he appreciated Mr. Lancman’s stepping aside because he was so excited to return to Washington.
That afternoon, Mr. Lancman dropped his bid. A few hours later, Mr. Ackerman decided to drop his too, and to retire. So Mr. Lancman embarked on a furious few days of lining up Queens County’s support, telling people, according to one Queens lawmaker, “I can’t live with myself if I don’t run for Congress.”
The first part of that effort, however, was to deter other people who may have wanted the seat from seeking it. He let it be known to his colleagues that if he won the seat, he didn’t plan on being there long—the implication being, according to one he spoke with, that he would soon seek higher office. He tweeted a photo of one of the other contenders for the nod, fellow Assembly member Grace Meng, sitting in the speaker’s chair in the State Assembly chambers, and wrote below it “Speaker Meng!”—suggesting perhaps Ms. Meng would be better served staying in the Assembly. When another possible contender, Mark Weprin, was pictured in The New York Times in an article about the seat, Mr. Lancman texted him, according to a Council source, “You look very Speaker-like in that photo!” (Both Ms. Meng and Mr. Weprin are often mentioned as candidates for the future speakerships of the legislative bodies; when Mr. Weprin didn’t get the Queens County nod he decided not to seek the seat.)
(UPDATE: Mr. Lancman tells me this afternoon that in fact he posted both messages before Mr. Ackerman announced his retirement.)
Once again, however, Queens County demurred and decided to back Ms. Meng. The new district has a plurality of Asian voters, and if she wins, Mr. Meng would the first Asian from New York to serve in Washington.
“When you get those calls, it’s very vague,” Mr. Lancman said of his second telephonic rejection by Mr. Crowley and Co. “It’s not, ‘O.K., here’s why you suck.’ When I met with them they asked me, ‘If we don’t choose you, will you run? And I was very open. I said I am going to run anyway. I believe I am the right person for this job and this is the right moment. So I said, ‘Listen, I know these are hard decisions, and I wish you had chosen me and I am going to run anyway.’”
Also in the race is Elizabeth Crowley, a City Council member and cousin of Joe, who, due to her relationship, is considered in political circles to be a plant designed to siphon white votes from Mr. Lancman. (Ms. Crowley and Queens Democrats strenuously deny it, and when asked about the possibility last week, Mr. Lancman declined to comment.)
Still, when he was asked if he had any reticence about running against a path-breaking candidate, he dead-panned, “You mean the first county leader’s cousin to be elected to Congress?” and added, “What is compelling to me is that we send people to City Hall and to Albany and to Washington who are going to be leaders and champions on issues.”
This Mr. Lancman undoubtedly has been, using his perch as the chair of the remarkably unpowerful Subcommittee on Workplace Safety to insert himself in the center of major issues roiling the globe.
In 2010, back when the papers were filled with accounts of injured acrobats at “Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark,” Mr. Lancman held a press conference in front of the theater on Broadway demanding that the producers add greater safety measures. Last year, when the world was transfixed by the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal, Mr. Lancman held a press conference in front of the Sofitel, demanding that hotel maids be outfitted with panic buttons.
Both initiatives were successful, which is why Queens Democrats seem a little nervous about betting against someone so determined to get to Congress. Mr. Lancman has already lined up the support of Ed Koch, a favorite of the district’s sizeable Jewish community and whose endorsement of Bob Turner proved crucial in his win last year; in 2007, the duo penned an op-ed in the Daily News urging Democrats to get tougher on Iran, a piece that Mr. Lancman displays prominently on his website. He has the support of the powerful labor-backed Working Families Party, in part because in 2009 he was one of the rare elected officials to defend ACORN.
“You ask any political professional in New York, would you rather run with the Queens County Democratic organization or the full support of organized labor, I don’t think anyone would not choose organized labor and that’s what I got.”
Mr. Lancman’s path, however, got a little more difficult earlier this week when news broke that Jeffrey Gottlieb, a Queens County Party official who had been working with Ms. Meng, decided to enter the race.
If Mr. Lancman was circumspect about the possibility that Ms. Crowley was a plant, he was far less so this time around.
“County and Meng are in full panic mode so they concocted a scheme to reach down and find the hackiest hack in all of hackdom—you got that? The hackiest hack in all of hackdom with a Jewish surname to try to siphon off Jewish votes,” he said in a phone follow-up. “The county fundamentally doesn’t understand how to win big elections … they picked David Weprin last summer to make some kind of political deal, an inside political chess move based on the redistricting process rather than who would be the strongest candidate.”
Michael Reich, executive secretary of the Queens County Democratic Party, was livid at the accusation. “If he had any decency he would have picked up the phone and called me before he started his attack,” he said. “He needs to grow up. This is America. If someone decides they want to run for Congress—even Rory Lancman—they can run. Who says Rory Lancman should be the only candidate? Rory Lancman.”
Mr. Lancman, undaunted, agreed with at least part of that. “They thought I would quietly go away like almost everyone does,” he said, “but I don’t need anyone’s permission to run for Congress.”
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