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In a modest apartment steps away from Prospect Park, Bill the flack introduced Bill the candidate for the 39th councilmanic district to a roomful of Park Slopers.
With nearly a year and a half to go before the election, why take time off from the nation's highest-profile Senate race on its highest-profile weekend to address what one supporter calls a "small gathering" and "not a fundraiser"? Common sense would suggest waiting at least until November, when de Blasio's current duties will have concluded, possibly, with new, D.C.-based opportunities for himself.
But with the term-limits law booting 36 from the council, and ambitious newcomers across the city therefore scrambling for dollars and support, de Blasio is running late. For as long as a year, the 39th district slot has been openly coveted by at least nine candidates. Five of them have already begun filing with the Campaign Finance Board.
Ordinarily, "you can hear nine or 10 names [early on] and sometimes get two [running]," says current four-term officeholder Stephen DiBrienza. But this race is unusual because "all of [the candidates] have some claim, some legitimacy."
Indeed, Park Slope school board member de Blasio, with ties to the Clintons, City Council Speaker Peter Vallone, and former mayor David Dinkins, is a strong contender in a district that encompasses the generally liberal neighborhoods of Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Park Slope, and Windsor Terrace, as well as part of the Orthodox Jewish community of Boro Park.
But to varying degrees, the other candidates, who are also longtime district residents, can themselves claim community ties and political backing. David Waid, an aide to State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and Greg Atkins, chief of staff to Assemblywoman Joan Millman, are both in, as is Craig Hammerman, district manager of Community Board 6.
Also running are Legal Aid attorney Steven Banks, who successfully represented a Cobble Hill community center during a February 1999 move by the mayor to replace it with a homeless shelter, and former Community Board 6 member Paul Bader, who will wed Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez in November. Consumer advocate Martin Brennan is in the race, as is Jack Carroll, election counsel to Assemblyman Jim Brennan. Education activist Alan Jay Gerber is the only candidate from Boro Park, while attorney and former Community Board 6 member Dawn Cardi, the only woman mentioned for the seat, is considering the race.
Given the number of candidates with community and political ties, DiBrienza laughs, "You could really end up with nine or 10 [candidates]."
But the size of the race should be no laughing matter to the left-leaning candidates (even Gerber, while describing himself as a "traditional Jew," distances himself from the conservative politics of his neighborhood).
Boro Park assemblyman Dov Hikind, a controversial Democrat with affiliations with the Conservative and Right to Life parties, declares, "Boy, you can walk into this seat if you're from Boro Park!" He argues that "somebody who has different views" from the current pool of candidatesall of whom profess their support of gay and lesbian interests, among other liberal positionswould provide the alternative for constituents looking for service without the progressive rhetoric.
The brashly liberal DiBrienza says his main advice to candidates has been "to learn and understand the district," especially Boro Park, where for 15 years he has picked up votes "despite my [political] issues." That area may hold the deciding vote in a primary where several liberals are vying for the same portion of the pie.
Although he will not yet name names, Hikindwhose influence with voters swayed Hillary Clinton to sit shiva for his father this Aprilsays that "a serious candidate with money" and political backing will emerge from Boro Park.
Is it possible that, in a district bursting with mixed-race and same-sex couples, organic-food co-ops, and socialist recruiters, a conservative from Boro Park could win the race? DiBrienza says "anything is possible," and candidates acknowledge that their infighting could open the primary to a conservative Democratic challenger.
DiBrienza, who has not yet endorsed a candidate, boasts, "I represent this district in a very progressive fashion." But, surveying the crowded field of would-be successors, he adds, "It's a valid questionwill this voice remain?"