We posted a quick story yesterday afternoon after local Democrats made Alice Cancel their pick to replace Sheldon Silver in Albany. Here’s more now from the unusual gathering at the Manny Cantor Center.
Cancel is now the Democratic nominee in an April 19 special election to fill the seat in the 65th Assembly District. She’ll face Lester Chang, the Republican nominee, and Yuh-Line Niou, a Democrat running on the Working Families Party ballot line.
About 180 members of the Democratic County Committee chose yesterday among five candidates. The contenders all gave short speeches before voting began.
Cancel has been Female District Leader in the assembly district for 22 years. She lives at Southbridge Towers and works for City Comptroller Scott Stringer. Previously, she was an aide to former Comptroller John Liu and State Sen. Marty Connor. In her remarks, Cancel said she has the “experience and commitment to get things done.” In the past 40 years, Cancel argued, she’s fought for affordable housing, school funding and improved recreational spaces. After living through the September 11th attacks and Hurricane Sandy, Cancel said, she has a strong understanding of what the community needs in Albany.
Cancel was followed at the podium by Gigi Li, chairperson of Community Board 3. Li said she has a plan for “expanding social services, investing in youth and education and encouraging smart development.” Without mentioning him by name, she referenced Sheldon Silver, saying, “We’ve lost a strong voice in Albany, but I have the experience and the dedication to deliver for the district.”
Paul Newell, who unsuccessfully challenged Silver in 2008, said he’s a longtime proponent of ethics reform in Albany. He promised to make the preservation of affordable housing a top priority and to fight for progressive values. “This is an incredible community,” said Newell. “I want to make sure our voice in taken to Albany” and that a “new kind of leadership” takes hold in state government.
The shocker of the afternoon came as Yuh-Line Niou, the favored candidate of Chinatown’s United Democratic Organization, withdrew from what she called a “flawed and undemocratic process.” Niou, Assembly member Ron Kim’s chief of staff, said, “I may not be an insider. I don’t belong to a political club.” But she added, “I am committed to standing up for people who don’t have a voice.” The announcement, delivered moments before ballots were cast, stunned County Committee members, some of whom had just hours earlier been persuaded to vote for Niou.
Jenifer Rajkumar, a district leader and former City Council candidate, was last to speak. Noting that “many of us came here today with our marching orders handed to us” by local political clubs, she urged members to vote their conscience. “Let us… set aside our marching orders and vote for the candidate,” said Rajkumar, “capable of moving our district and its people forward into a bright new tomorrow.”
When the votes had been counted, Cancel had won decisively (see the vote tallies here). Newell came in second, with Rajkumar third and Niou fourth. Gigi Li did not win any County Committee votes.
Mainstream media accounts are making much of the involvement in yesterday’s meeting by Judy Rapfogel, Silver’s longtime chief of staff and by Rosa Silver, the former Assemblyman’s wife. Silver was convicted on federal corruption charges Nov. 30. William Rapfogel, Judy’s husband, was convicted of embezzling funds from the Met Council. Adele Malpass, chairwoman of the Manhattan Republican Party, told the Daily News:
The fact the wives of convicted con artists Shelly Silver and William Rapfogel were allowed to participate in the selection of Alice Cancel as the Democrat standard-bearer in the April 19 special election to fill the former Assembly seat of the disgraced Shelly Silver is indicative of how deep corruption runs in the political clubhouses of the district.
Alice Cancel drew support from several neighborhood groups. Many members of Silver’s political organization, the Truman Democratic Club, voted for her. Cancel’s own club, Lower East Side Democrats, strongly favored the longtime political activist, of course. Cancel was endorsed by City Council member Rosie Mendez. During a brief interview yesterday, Mendez told us she was swayed by Cancel’s long history advocating for working people within the community. “She does it through shear tenacity,” said Mendez. “She keeps at it and doesn’t give up.” Cancel also enjoyed strong support from tenant leaders, including resident association heads of the Alfred E. Smith Houses, Vladeck Houses and St. Mary’s Guild housing complex.
The battle for the 65th Assembly District is not over by any means. In the April special election, Niou will likely attract significant support in Chinatown, complicating Cancel’s path to victory in a heavily Democratic District. All of the candidates in contention yesterday are expected to run in the regularly scheduled September primary. They will be joined by Don Lee, a Chinatown-based candidate who withdrew from the County Committee election last week, citing its “undemocratic” process. Christopher Marte is running as an independent in both the special election and in the November general election.