Residents of the Lower East Side and other Lower Manhattan neighborhoods woke up this morning with no representation in the New York State Assembly. It is the most immediate impact of yesterday’s conviction on federal corruption charges of Assemblyman Sheldon Silver. After four decades in Albany, Silver was immediately forced to relinquish his seat in the 65th Assembly District.
This morning, Governor Cuomo told the New York Observer, “I am looking at calling a special election for the Sheldon Silver seat as well as two other vacancies that exist now for April 19 (the same day as the presidential primary)… I believe that’s within the legal deadlines and that’s the date we’re looking at.” As we have reported in the past, it is likely that the Democratic nominee will be chosen by the County Committee, a group of party insiders from Lower Manhattan. Since the Democratic Party is so dominant in the assembly district, the general election is little more than a formality.
In the past few months, speculation regarding Silver’s successor has centered on two downtown district leaders: Paul Newell and Jenifer Rajkumar. Newell, who unsuccessfully challenged Silver in 2008, told The Lo-Down earlier today, “I am seriously looking at pushing ahead (with a campaign for the seat).” Newell said he will be meeting soon his his campaign committee. As Crain’s noted today, Newell has raised about $47,000 as of the summer filing period.
Rajkumar, who took on Council member Margaret Chin two years ago, is keeping a somewhat lower profile. In a statement today, she called on the people of Lower Manhattan to join in tackling the big issues facing the community. “Working together,” she said, “we can replace the culture of corruption in Albany with a culture of service. I look forward to being a part of this movement in any way that best serves our community and ensures honest and effective leadership for the future.”
Other candidates are likely to emerge. The downtown political clubs, all with delegates at the county committees, will likely have a significant role in choosing the next Assembly member from Lower Manhattan. Newell and Rajkumar are both from Downtown Independent Democrats, so members of that club will be called on to choose between them. Community Board 3 Chairperson Gigi Li said this morning she’s keeping her options open. This past summer, a controversy over petition signatures derailed her bid to challenge Rajkumar for district leader.
The Truman Democratic Club, Sheldon Silver’s political organization, has a slate of country committee delegates. So in spite of Mr. Silver’s removal from office, he’ll still wield a certain amount of influence. The United Democratic Organization in Chinatown and the Lower East Side Democratic Club will also both be players in the political process. In an interview a short time ago, John Quinn (longtime leader of LES Democrats) said he fears the sudden power vacuum will lead to infighting throughout the district. He’s worried that the East Side could lose out to West Side if credible candidates do not emerge to take on Newell and Rajkumar.
We also have reaction from downtown politicos regarding the Silver verdict. Stay tuned for a separate post on that.