High Drama, Low Turnout

High Drama, Low Turnout

With little drama at the top of the ticket — there is only one statewide Democratic primary contest — turnout is expected to be largely underwhelming in Tuesday’s election. But the exception will likely be in Manhattan, where some spirited campaigns are playing out.

One of the most interesting is the race for the House on the Upper East Side pitting 34-year-old upstart Reshma Saujani seeking to unseat veteran Rep. Carolyn Maloney, 64. It’s one of only a handful of Democratic contests in the nation pitting two women against each other.

Saujani, a lawyer who formerly represented hedge fund managers, has raised half as much money as Maloney, $1.2 million compared to $2.6 million, still an impressive sum for someone who has never held office.

“I’ve been organizing in New York for almost a decade, activating disenfranchised voters,” said Saujani in a recent Jewish Week interview. “People right now are angry at the status quo. Outsiders like me are kicking open the doors.”

Saujani, who received an endorsement from the Daily News, has criticized Maloney for soliciting contributions from the financial services industry while sitting on a committee working on the financial reform bill, but Maloney counters that she supported a massive credit card reform bill in 2008 and that Saujani also has substantial Wall Street backing.

“I’m working hard and I’ve been a great friend to Israel and the Jewish community,” said Maloney in an interview Tuesday.

Maloney, in 1992, was the last challenger to unseat an incumbent member of the House from New York City with her victory over Bill Green, and most observers think she’ll hold on.

“Opinions on Maloney range from pretty good to OK,” said Columbia University political science professor Lincoln Mitchell. “That should be good enough.” The challenge for Saujani, says Mitchell, is “how do you make the argument to people who have been voting for Maloney for almost 20 years to make a change, absent some rank failure on the part of the incumbent?”

Mitchell said of Maloney’s Wall Street contributions, “That’s kind of business as usual. If that’s the worst you can come up with, Maloney is fine.”

In the primary for attorney general, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice is the frontrunner according to a WABC-TV poll taken in early July that gave her a huge lead, 32 percent, over Manhattan State Sen. Eric Shneiderman, Westchester Assemblyman Richard Brodsky (tied at 9 percent), attorney Sean Coffey and former state insurance superintendent Eric Dinallo (tied at 7 percent.) But “undecided” was the real winner of the poll, with 36 percent giving that response. Schneiderman has since picked up the New York Times’ endorsement.

A Quinnipiac University poll taken later that month found that 81 percent of voters didn’t know who is running for attorney general, but when given the names of the five candidates, 11 percent chose Rice, while 73 percent chose “don’t know.”

“This race hasn’t clicked, hasn’t grabbed people,” said Mitchell. “A lot of people will be going to the polls based on what they’ve seen in ads. Everything can change in the next few days or if some scandal erupts.”

Rice, 45, may be hurt by the revelation that she didn’t vote for 18 years after registering as a Republican, until 2002, three years before she ran for DA.

Schneiderman, for his part, has proudly embraced the role of most liberal candidate. He told the New York Times that if he is elected the National Action Alliance organization founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton “will have an annex in Albany for the first time in the history of this state.”

The race to succeed Schneiderman in the upper Manhattan 31st District Senate seat in Albany pits Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat against District Leader Mark Levine, former District Leader Anna Lewis and Miosotis Muñoz, a former aide to Rep. Charles Rangel. The district includes West Harlem, Inwood and Washington Heights.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer is backing Espaillat in what some observers see as a bid to win the borough’s substantial Dominican-American vote for Stringer’s expected 2013 mayoral bid. Espaillat is also backed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Levine has called for an investigation by the attorney general into Espaillat’s creation with state funds of a nonprofit development group that hired his operatives and political cronies. Also in Manhattan, the embattled Rangel — facing ethics violation charges in the House — will face off against assemblyman and political scion Adam Clayton Powell IV. The district includes heavily Jewish Washington Heights.

In other interesting races to watch:

• In the 26th Assembly District in northern Queens, four candidates are running to replace Anne Carozza, who is not seeking re-election. They are former Assemblyman John Duane, former Council candidate Steven Behar, Ed Braunstein, an aide to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Elio Forcina, a lawyer.

• In the nearby 24th District, Assemblyman David Weprin faces a rematch of the special election he won in February against Robert Friedrich, a community activist.

• In the 28th District in Forest Hills, Queens, Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, whose father, Alan Hevesi once held the seat, is opposed by attorney Joe Fox.

• In Brooklyn’s 42nd District, 32-year incumbent Rhoda Jacobs, who has regularly battled to hold her seat in a heavily Caribbean American neighborhood with a small Jewish population, faces her latest challenge from Haitian American Michele Adolphe, who has been active in organizing disaster relief for the quake-stricken island.

• In Brooklyn’s 18th Senate District, state Sen. Kevin Parker, whose district includes parts of Flatbush, Kensington and Ditmas Park, faces a challenge from developer Wellington Sharpe. Parker has strong ties with the area’s Orthodox community and showed his muscle by surviving a 2006 challenge from then councilman Simcha Felder. But he may be damaged by felony charges of assaulting a New York Post photographer earlier this year with an October trial date set. Parker has a history of violent confrontations and was ordered by a court in 2005 to take anger management classes.
“The primary last year had a very nice turnout” in Flatbush,” said political consultant Yeruchim Silber. “But this year there is a lot of voter apathy.”

• In Nassau County’s Five Towns, former county legislator Jeff Toback is taking on Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg. Both men have strong Jewish support. Calling for more federal aid to schools to keep property-tax assessments down, Toback is presenting himself as a reformer who joined New York Uprising, former Mayor Ed Koch’s coalition to bring nonpartisan redistricting to the state to make it easier for challengers to get elected and end Albany gridlock.

Democrat political consultant Hank Sheinkopf said that many issues, from gay marriage to tax education and health care and Albany reform measures will be played out in the primary as voters get their chance to vent.

“Since there is no real Republican primary in New York City, the Democratic primary has become a stand-in for Republicans and less conservative Democrats,” said the consultant. “This is the first campaign in years where interest groups actually played a more open role than usual.”

In the statewide Republican primaries, former Congressman Rick Lazio is expected to easily defeat developer Carl Paladino for the gubernatorial ballot slot, while Bruce Blakeman faces economist David Malpass and ex-Westchester Congressman Joe DioGuardi for the right to take on Kirsten Gillibrand in November.

For information about the candidates statewide and in your area and where to vote, go to http://www.elections.state.ny.us/

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As Ed Koch likes to say, nobody asked him, but he’s got an opinion or two … on the Middle East peace process.

His solution to the dispute over Jerusalem may be one only a former New York mayor could think of: Keep the holy city as one municipality but divide it into five boroughs. All of the city’s residents would elect a single mayor and five “canton presidents.”

“Yes, were such an election held today, the mayor undoubtedly would be Jewish because of the city’s demographics,” writes Koch in his latest e-mailed commentary. “Currently, 64 percent of Jerusalem’s population is Jewish; 32 percent is Muslim and two percent is Christian. Over the years, that could change. Tourists are more likely to come, in a divided city, to the Jewish area for safety reasons when, if it were one city, all groups — Jews, Muslims and Christians — would prosper from the tourism.”

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