State Sen. Daniel Squadron rocked his district (Brooklyn waterfront and Lower East Side) on Wednesday with the news he would be stepping down on Friday to fight political corruption on the state and national level. (He’ll be joining entrepreneur Adam Pritzker and Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University in this undertaking.)
But the question of who will replace Squadron for the remainder of his term (about a year and a half is left), however, is raising concerns that the obscure process for choosing a nominee for the special election could leave Brooklynites without a say.
Squadron’s district extends over two separate counties, New York County (Manhattan) and Brooklyn (Kings County). Under Democratic Party rules, the party nominee for the vacated seat in the November election will be chosen in a selection process run by the chairs of the New York County and Kings County Democratic Committees.
The rules allow for those chairs to either run a “weighted” process whose outcome will be determined solely by county committee members —called “political insiders” by some and “party activists” by others — from Manhattan alone, or will also give county committee members in Brooklyn a vote.
Weighting is based on gubernatorial turnout in the last election, where Manhattan outweighed Brooklyn by roughly 65/35.
A political insider said that the committee chairs could just jointly decide who to nominate, bypassing the county committee members altogether. “Also a bad process, but at least the county committee members are elected,” the source said.
Democrat state Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh (Manhattan’s East Side) announced on Wednesday that he is in the running for Squadron’s slot, according to published reports. A Manhattan district leader, Paul Newell (Lower East Side), is also mulling a run.
Squadron’s letter to county chairs
Squadron is calling on the county chairs —Keith Wright in Manhattan and Frank Seddio in Brooklyn — “to make the process as democratic as possible.”
The process for choosing a nominee “leaves much to be desired,” Squadron wrote in a letter to the pair.
“I have worked hard to represent every of part of the 26th Senate District. Every neighborhood, including those in Brooklyn, where I live, should have a say in choosing a nominee. To disenfranchise Brooklynites would be unfair and undemocratic,” he wrote.
“The process is not obscure, it’s purposeful,” a longtime political observer told the Brooklyn Eagle. “Meade Esposito told me this many years ago. They have found every way to stop people from voting for this, because everybody understands that it is to their long-term advantage to turn their proxies over to —quote — their leader.”
Candidates representing other parties may also appear on November’s ballot. However, those who obtain the Democratic Party line are effectively guaranteed victory in Squadron’s district and many districts throughout the city.
In the New York State Assembly, nearly one third of legislators obtained office via a special election.
Squadron has sponsored legislation in an attempt to reform the process. He wrote in this legislation that the current system means “a significant number of legislators have been placed into office without the districts they serve being given a meaningful choice to fill the vacancy.”
His bill (S.1797/A.522), which is still in committee, would require non-partisan special elections in cases like his own.