After enduring a scathing campaign against him in the press and on the streets of the Lower East Side, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver easily survived a primary challenge, his first in over 20 years, by two political novices on Tuesday, while another veteran legislator, state Sen. Martin Connor, lost the Democratic Senate nomination in Brooklyn to a challenger backed by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer.
The victor of that primary, Daniel Squadron, is a former Schumer staffer and transportation advocate who was also backed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Also in Brooklyn, Councilman Simcha Felder fell short in his bid to wrest the Democratic nomination for state Senate in Flatbush from Kevin Parker of Flatbush, who had the backing of Felder’s former mentor, Assemblyman Dov Hikind.
And on Staten Island, a City Councilman, Michael McMahon won the Democratic nomination to replace disgraced Republican Rep. Vito Fossella, who is not seeking re-election. McMahon faces former Assemblyman Robert Straniere, who won the Republican nomination Tuesday, in November.
McMahon defeated Steve Harrison, an attorney who lives in the Brooklyn section of the congressional district.
“Harrison is not well known on Staten Island,” Rabbi Gerald Sussman of Temple Emanuel on Staten Island. “He seems to represent the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.” Staten Island has been a conservative bastion in the city, often electing Republicans.
Silver, who won with 68 percent of the vote, said in an interview on Wednesday, “I always had confidence that constituents would recognize the work I’ve dne over the years.”
Afetr if he was concerned about another challenge in two years, he said “I think I’ve shown over the years that I have a strong base of support all over the district. People recognize that I have been there for them and I’m accessible.”
Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf attributed Connor’s loss to anti-incumbency sentiment in the district. Connor was elected in 1978, and was the Democratic minority leader of the state Senate before he was ousted by then-senator [now Governor] David Paterson, who complained that Connor hadn’t worked hard enough to elect enough Democrats to take over the upper house.
“Thirty years is a long time to be in office, and people voted against someone who is around that long versus a new face,” said Sheinkopf.
But in the case of Silver, who was elected in 1977, Sheinkopf said people in his district were pleased with the clout he has used to help the community. He won with 68 percent of the vote.
“[Constituents] don’t look at him as a speaker of the Assembly, they see the local assemblyman who gets things done, has a constituent operation that never stops and brings in millions of dollars on an annual basis,” said Sheinkopf. “That’s different than [Connor] who was a minority member of the Legislature.”
Sheinkopf also said a spirited campaign against the speaker in the media – The Post, a consistent Silver-basher, featured a manipulated photo of him on page 1 as Dracula on Election Day – may have helped rather than harmed him. The paper’s editorial page and others have trashed him as an opponent of reform in Albany and attacked him for his ties to trial lawyers who sue the city and state.
“He came under such extreme attack that people, particularly on Grand Street, stood up for him,” said Sheinkopf.
Paul Newell, one of Silver’s challengers, had hoped to capitalize on the speaker’s blocking last year of Bloomberg’s ill-fated congestion pricing plan, intended to reduce traffic.
“Of 150 Assembly districts none has as much traffic as the 64th,” said Newell, a former Yiddish archivist ay YIVO, in an interview before the election. “[Silver] is a very powerful man in Albany but he hasn’t had to ask Lower Manhattan residents for their vote in 22 years.”
The other challenger was Luke Henry, who spent much of his efforts campaigning in the Chinatown part of the district. Newell won about 28 percent of the vote while Henry won just 8 percent.
In the Connor-Squadron race, many of Connor’s colleagues in the Legislature, including Silver, as well as Rep. Jerrold Nadler came out to support his re-election. The chasidic community in the Williamsburg section of the district was divided, with two rival Satmar factions taking opposite sides. The Daily News reported Sunday that supporters of Zalman Teitelbaum backed Connor and supporters of Teitelbaum’s brother, Aron Teitelbaum backed Squadron. The brothers have been battling for control of the Satmar movement since their father died in 2006.
According to the News Bloomberg’s top political aide, Kevin Sheekey, visited the Zalman faction in an unsuccessful bid to win their support for Squadron, who won with 54 percent of the vote.
The victory of Parker, who is African American, marked his third triumph over Orthodox Jewish challengers in a district that is heavily black and Jewish. Parker defeated former Councilman Noach Dear in the last two Senate primaries.
In an interview Wednesday, a tired-sounding Felder, said he had made no decisions about his next step.
“I haven’t thought about it,” he said. “I’m just getting some sleep.”
Felder will be forced by term limits out of his Council seat representing most of Borough Park and part of Bensonhurst at the end of 2009 and was initially seen as a likely contender for City comptroller or Brooklyn borough president before he launched his bid to wrest the Democrat nomination from incumbent Senator Kevin Parker, whose district is mostly in Fatbush.
Parker won nearly half the votes cast Tuesday, with Felder earning 37 percent and another challenger, Councilman Kendall Stewart, coming in third with 12 percent.
Felder campaigned heavily during the summer, particularly in the upstate Catskills region where many of his constituents vacation.
Felder did not rule out entering another political race in the coming months. “There are many options open and I’m looking at them,” he said, adding that he had enjoyed the campaign. “It was a very heartwarming experience,” he said. “I was received very warmly everywhere I went. People may not have voted for me but they were always very warm and receptive.”
In another hotly contested Brooklyn primary, Rep. Edolphus Towns, whose district includes heavily Orthodox Flatbush, easily defeated challenger Kevin Powell
Looking ahead to the Staten Island congressional race, Rabbi Sussman said “It’s hard to say [how the Jewish community will vote]. Straniere is one of very few Jewish elected officials on Staten Island. He grew up in Temple Israel. And McMahon is very well known on the North Shore as someone who has done a lot of good.”
Outside New York, the victory of Al Franken, a former comic actor and writer for Saturday Night Live in the Democrat primary for Senate in Minnesota sets up an all-Jewish contest in the state in November, when Franken faces Republican Norm Coleman.
Both men are New York natives.