Vito Lopez protegé and City Councilman Stephen Levin walked into the lion’s den last night, facing the virulently anti-Lopez New Kings Democratic club for the first time.
Mr. Levin, Mr. Lopez’s former chief of staff, was invited to a club candidate forum in a Williamsburg basement decorated with musical instruments, old video games and a pile of stuffed Care Bears, where members sipped beers and passed around pizza slices as candidates spoke. Members described the appearance as “an historic event for a very small group of people.”
The week before Vito Lopez resigned, the state ethics commission released a scathing 68-page report that detailed a lurid pattern of abuse in his district office.
According to the allegations, the former assemblyman once lamented the existence of statutory rape laws in the presence of a 14-year-old intern. Mr. Lopez demanded massages from female staffers, including one who cried and expressed her discomfort as a former rape victim. At a bar one evening, he grabbed an employee’s hands from across the table. When she tried to pull away, he tightened his grip. When she began to cry, Mr. Lopez said he’d release her only after she counted to 60. When she did, he stared at her for the full minute.
After resigning from his Assembly seat on Monday morning, Mr. Lopez is said to be contemplating a seemingly unfathomable second act: running for City Council. Given the accusations against him, what’s more surprising is that even his detractors acknowledge that Mr. Lopez actually has a viable path to victory.
His mouth buried in a bullhorn, Lincoln Restler howled at the tinted windows in front of him.
“I see you didn’t bring your daughters to dinner!” the Democratic activist shouted at a slew of dark-suited men slipping soundlessly into the sumptuous Williamsburg restaurant.
“Ooh,” mumbled a grinning police officer. “That was harsh.”
For many months, Lincoln Restler, the winner and loser of two incredibly-tight, back-to-back district leader campaigns, has been a chief antagonist of Brooklyn Councilman Steve Levin and was seriously exploring a highly-anticipated run against him. Today, however, Mr. Restler ultimately decided against the bid, freeing Mr. Levin of his most serious opponent this year.
“A number of people have asked me about my plans to run for office again and I wanted to share my thinking directly with you,” Mr. Restler wrote in an email to supporters this evening. “I have decided not to run for City Council this year. While I’ve had my share of disagreements with Councilmember Stephen Levin, I also respect that he has been a member of the Progressive Caucus, has brought participatory budgeting to our community, and has strived to actively represent our neighborhoods.”
One of the fiercest disputes over the decennial redistricting process raged on after the final versions of the new City Council district maps were released this week. Councilman Steve Levin insisted the process through which the districts were drawn was focused on substance while his potential rival, Lincoln Restler, repeatedly dismissed the new Council maps as rooted in political concerns.
“There was never a serious discussion,” Mr. Restler argued. “This was a political deal made by the Speaker and the local council member and it’s clear throughout the entire process that it’s nothing more than an incumbent protection program.”
Mr. Restler’s long-rumored bid to unseat Mr. Levin took a significant hit when the redistricting dust finally settled. In their final lines, the commission tasked with the decennial redrawing of City Council boundaries upheld an alteration to Mr. Levin’s 33rd District that added tracts of Hasidic Jewish voters likely to back Mr. Levin and removed parts of Brownstone Brooklyn favorable to Mr. Restler.
It was the multicultural American Dream, the only hope of ambitious Russian immigrants and the possible death knell of Orthodox Jewish communities, all at once, at least according to some of those testifying at the redistricting hearing last night in Brooklyn.
It was not the controversial draft map that placed potential Council candidate Vito Lopez in a neighboring district–the aspect of this year’s redrawing of the City Council lines to reflect the new Census numbers that has attracted the most media coverage–that sparked the controversy last night. Rather, two versions of Councilman Michael Nelson’s 48th District offered alternating realities for competing demographic groups, dominating the public hearing in front of most members of the Districting Commission.
“Does he have an office, though? Does he use the computer?”
The crowd jammed into Williamsburg’s Los Sures Museum last night for the New Kings Democrats’s first meeting of the year laughed at what was not necessarily intended to be a joke. Attorney Jason Otaño, an unsuccessful state senate candidate last fall, really wanted to know if Carl Hum, the executive director of the New York City Districting Commission, had an office and a computer.
Mr. Hum does indeed have both, but technology hasn’t been his biggest headache during this year’s decennial redistricting process where the City Council’s lines will be redrawn to reflect the latest Census numbers.
A number of other candidates have won tough races tonight. As the results come trickling in, here are some notable ones:
Assemblyman William Boyland Jr., currently facing federal charges that he solicited bribes to pay his legal bills in an unrelated federal corruption case, won against a slew of challengers. Six opponents split the anti-Boyland vote, allowing him to skate by with a weak plurality.
State Senator Shirley Huntley, indicted a couple weeks ago on charges that she helped deliver member items to a sham non-profit, lost to Councilman James Sanders, who waged an aggressive campaign and managed to turn out his base in a seat made less favorable to Ms. Huntley in redistricting.
It’s primary day in New York City! That means if you go to any polling site in the five boroughs, you’re going to see bored workers and low turnout. That is, unless you are in Hasidic Williamsburg, where voters are turning out in throngs to decide who will represent them in an unpaid position in the Kings County Democratic Party. In that race, District Leader Lincoln Restler, a staunch critic of Brooklyn’s scandal-tarred Democratic boss Vito Lopez, is trying to win re-election as the establishment moves to try and squash his political career in a battle Mr. Restler has dubbed “Vito’s last stand.”
We visited a heavily Hasidic polling site off Heyward Street, where indeed, long lines of Orthodox Jewish voters filled a school gymnasium, the atmosphere buzzing with activity. A couple dozen yards outside the entrance, signs in Yiddish urged locals to vote for Mr. Restler or his opponent, community board chairman Chris Olechowski, and young volunteers for Mr. Olechowski sat in a booth, routinely shouting, “Vote!”
Despite Mr. Lopez’s woes stemming from serious sexual harassment claims, found credible by the State Assembly, members of the the local Jewish community argue the election is a way to demonstrate their electoral strength for the 2013 elections, where New York City will be electing its next mayor and other top government positions.
It’s Election Day in New York next Thursday! But instead of a titanic battle between ideologies–your Mitt Romneys vs. Barack Obamas, if you will–the options on the ballot will be little-noticed state legislative contests between candidates of the same party, often with few policy differences.
However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some exciting races happening. From “Who Gets Arrested for Raping a Grandmother?” to “Assemblywoman Caught Up in Sex Scandal with Two Young Men,” there’s been no shortage of nasty drama and mud slinging as voters head to the polls.
Here’s a breakdown of who’s running and why it might matter who wins. The list below focuses on Democratic races because the few Republican primaries in this staunchly blue city tend to have clear favorites or are taking place in such Democratic territory that the victor is reasonably likely to be irrelevant.