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Kavanagh Secures Nomination For Senate Seat; Outrage Over Process Persists

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Brian Kavanagh with Daniel Squadron in 2016. Photo from the assembly member's Twitter feed.
Brian Kavanagh with Daniel Squadron in 2016. Photo from the assembly member’s Twitter feed.

Democratic Party bosses met at Junior’s Restaurant in Brooklyn yesterday, picking State Assembly member Brian Kavanagh to succeed Daniel Squadron in the 26th Senate District, which includes the Lower East Side. Although Kavanagh is generally well-liked, the move was seen as the least democratic outcome possible.

On Sunday afternoon, members of the Manhattan Democratic Committee (grassroots activists) chose another candidate, LES District Leader Paul Newell. Newell won the weighted vote 72% to 28%. But about one-third of the district is located in Brooklyn. That borough’s party boss, Frank Seddio, chose to allocate all of Brooklyn’s votes to Kavanagh, foregoing a vote of his own County Committee. This gave Kavanagh more than 50% of the district-wide vote, and assured his nomination. He’s virtually guaranteed of winning a special election on Nov. 7 in the deep blue district.

Paul Newell put out the following sharply worded statement yesterday afternoon. This is a slightly edited version:

Today, ignoring the democratic will of the County Committee, Manhattan political boss and lobbyist Keith Wright met Brooklyn political boss Fran Seddio at a cheesecake fundraiser and chose Brian Kavanagh as the Democratic nominee. Not since Carmine DeSapio of Tammany Hall, has a Manhattan County Leader has overruled the vote of a County Committee. Brooklyn political boss Frank Seddio refused to allow the Kings County Committee to vote, enabling the two bosses to work out a deal in which Kavanagh would take the seat.  Had Brooklyn Committee members been allowed to vote, Newell would have needed to win a mere 8% of them to secure a district-wide majority… The certificate of Kavanagh’s nomination claims that the “26th Senate District Committee of the Democratic Party” held a “unanimous” vote to coronate their chosen candidate. But what the certificate doesn’t say is that the only voters of the 26th Senate District who were allowed to weigh in on this race voted overwhelmingly for Paul Newell. The certificate also does not recognize that Brooklyn County Committee members were shut out of the process, their voices suppressed the backroom deals that led to today’s shameful conclusion… Although erstwhile reformer Daniel Squadron himself asked for a full vote upon his resignation, he clearly fostered and approved of the back room deal to benefit his friend and chosen successor. Leader Wright and Leader Seddio should be ashamed for their subversion of the democratic process. A deal made between two party bosses in the back room of Junior’s Restaurant is an appalling replacement for a public vote – and is a stain on the Democratic Party in New York.

As the Observer reported, Seddio talked with reporters before the breakfast, saying he was just following the party’s rules. “This is a Democratic seat so it’s very unlikely a Republican could win but we should have the best person who has the best experience … some people may not agree with it, but that’s the process,” he argued. According to Kings County Politics, Seddio elaborated about his controversial decision, explaining:

The process in Brooklyn is different from the process in Manhattan. They allow a recommendation of the county committee. Of the candidates that were in the race, I evaluated them for our purposes and for who I thought was the best candidate that would serve us. And I believe that for a 10-year state legislator (Kavanagh) to walk into the state Senate with experience and knowledge was the best choice.


Manhattan Democratic  leader Keith Wright told the Post:

Manhattan Democrats are fortunate to have Democratic leaders like Paul Newell and Brian Kavanagh. I commend Paul for his campaign and know he has a bright future ahead with Manhattan Democrats and beyond. Having served with Brian in the State Assembly for over a decade, I can personally attest to his commitment to our shared values and his ability to be a strong voice for the true senate Democratic majority against those of Republicans and the breakaway Independent Democratic Caucus.

Kavanagh attended the breakfast, as well, telling Brooklyn Democratic leaders, “I particularly wanna thank the leader, Frank Seddio, who really has been very welcoming and really screened so many candidates as part of the process and hopefully all of this will work out and I look forward to representing Brooklynites.”

In an editorial, the Daily News wrote that the “voters got screwed” by the party. Gothamist was not very impressed, either, reporting the developments of the last couple of days this way:

The backroom process that elevated Kavanagh was ultimately empowered by Squadron, and represented the kind of unseemliness he railed against during his years in Albany. There was only one scenario—an unprecedented one, according to longtime observers—that could have made Kavanagh a state senator. This is the scenario that ultimately occurred. “It’s a terrible process and the state law unfortunately doesn’t create a path for a good one,” Squadron admitted to Gothamist.

Kavanagh had the backing of the political establishment, from the governor on down. More from the Gothamist story:

There was plenty of backroom intrigue. Mayor Bill de Blasio told Wright and Seddio he wanted Kavanagh, not Newell, to be the next state senator, and the bosses acquiesced, Brooklyn Democratic sources say. Borough President Gale Brewer and Comptroller Scott Stringer applied similar pressure to Wright in Manhattan. All were following the will of Squadron.

Kavanagh at Sunday's meeting.
Kavanagh at Sunday’s meeting.

While Brooklyn has come under heavy criticism, NY1’s Zack Fink noted that the Manhattan process was hardly pristine:

For starters, the committee rules were changed and presented to members just three days before the Sunday vote. Instead of the usual balloting process where several votes occur until there is a winner, on Sunday, it was just one ballot. County Committees are supposed to be a microcosm of the district. But the committee members are Democratic party people who get elected in the Primary. They are not government people. That means they are political in nature, and those who were elected on September 12 were also able to vote (Sunday). Although Many appointments were left vacant and had no vote at all.

Newell and his allies fought to seat committee members from his own club, but as Fink reported:

 …he was not arguing to fill the slots for Lower East Democrats, which is (District Leader Alice) Cancel’s club. Cancel’s slate was knocked off the ballot for September 12 leaving a bunch of vacancies. Lower East Side Dems represent the Section 8 and NYCHA portions of the district including the Alfred E. Smith and Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia Houses. As a result, as one insider put it “there were very few black or brown people being represented in that room Sunday.” The two new District leaders from that area, also known as Part B were there however, Daisy Paez and Pedro Cardi ( actually Cardi was an incumbent and ran with Alice, but was re-elected last week ). Just not many of their committee people. And part B represents about a quarter of the Senate District.

So what happens next? For one thing, there’s likely to be another meeting of the County Committee to decide who fills Kavanagh’s assembly seat, which covers the area mostly above East Houston Street, stretching up to portions of Midtown. Ben Yee, secretary of the Manhattan Democratic Party, observed on his blog:

Whatever you feelings on the process of the Senate nomination, there are more players and more deals to come. When Brian Kavanaugh vacates his Assembly Seat, it will kickoff another County Committee vote – to decide who should be the Democratic nominee to fill Kavanaugh’s soon to be empty seat in the 74th Assembly District. It’s almost impossible to imagine this hasn’t received any consideration by those involved. The question now is who will Brian Kavanaugh install as his successor? Who will be the new Assemblymember for the 74th AD? Who is the last, unknown beneficiary of this process?

Stay tuned.

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