Four Candidates Make Their Pitches to Replace State. Sen. Daniel Squadron

(L-R) Brian Kavanagh, Paul Newell,  Diego Segalini, Alan Gerson.

(L-R) Brian Kavanagh, Paul Newell, Diego Segalini, Alan Gerson.

For the first time last night, the four announced contenders to fill State Sen. Daniel Squadron’s seat in Albany appeared together at a campaign forum. During a meeting of Downtown Independent Democrats (DID), a political club, the candidates made their initial pitches. The organization chose to endorse Paul Newell, a local district leader and member of DID.

On Aug. 9, Squadron announced his resignation from the 26th Senate District. The governor is expected to call a special election on the same day as New York City’s general election on Nov. 7. While the chairman of the Manhattan Democratic Party, Nico Minerva, could designate a nominee unilaterally, he’s expected to call a meeting of the county committees encompassing the 26th Senate District.

Squadron’s former district includes most of Lower Manhattan, as well as neighborhoods along the Brooklyn waterfront. Party activists will be called on to make the decision for Democratic voters at-large. The meeting will likely take place sometime after the upcoming Democratic Primary on Sept. 12, but before Sept. 19, when the November ballot needs to be finalized.

Last night, each candidate made a brief statement and took a few questions from club members. Besides Newell, DID heard from State Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, former City Council member Alan Gerson and Diego Segalini, a Lower East Side resident who’s executive vice president of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council.

On the issues, the candidates were in agreement on the big topics — the need to address the affordable housing crisis, fighting the downsizing of Beth Israel Hospital, protecting mom-and-pop businesses, fixing the MTA. The deliberations focused both on their experience in the political system and their familiarity with local priorities.

Newell, who lives in Masaryk Towers on the Lower East Side, was seen by many club members as well-equipped to represent their interests in Albany. During a conversation after the candidates left the room, others voiced support for Kavanagh, who has been in the Legislature for about a decade. Gerson, who served two terms before being unseated by Margaret Chin in 2009, won praise for his work in recent years as an attorney representing local not-for-profit groups. Among his clients is the Chinese American Planning Council. Segalini, a newcomer to politics, talked up the advantages of “fresh blood” in Albany. Club members concluded he needed to become more familiar with issues facing downtown neighborhoods.

Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou attended last night’s meeting. In her freshman year as a legislator representing the 65th Assembly District, she was able to rely on Squadron as a mentor and partner. She has not made an endorsement as of yet, but Niou told us she expects to back a candidate in advance of the county committee vote. Niou said she is eager to have a new partner to work with in the Legislature.

Downtown Independent Democrats is just one of several clubs which will have something to say about the Democratic nominee. Many county committee members are linked to the clubs and, although each member is free to vote independently, endorsement decisions from the political organizations are influential. Newell is expected to win the backing of Lower East Side Democrats, which covers the Two Bridges area. Gerson will likely attract support from the United Democratic Organization in Chinatown and the Truman Democratic Club on Grand Street, although those clubs have not held endorsement meetings. It’s less certain who CoDA in the East Village will choose to support. Brooklyn clubs will also weigh in, of course, but Manhattan is in a stronger position. The district breakdown is 65% Manhattan, 35% Brooklyn.

Since his announcement, Squadron has taken quite a lot of heat from newspaper editorial boards and from some community activists for announcing his resignation too late for a primary to be held. As the New York Times wrote just today, “By default, Democratic county committees now get to pick who runs… This is gaming the system.” While the Republican Party will put up a candidate in November, the Democratic nominee is virtually assured of winning in the heavily progressive district.