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By Keegan Hamilton
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She said she had to call the party boss after her win to make sure he wouldn't aid her Republican opponent, incumbent Guy Velella, who maintains a close working relationship with Ramirez. "Roberto pledged that he wouldn't give Velella any support in any way," said Koppell. "He told me I would be entitled to the same benefits as any other Democratic candidate"hardly an indication that the Bronx leader was prepared to put in the extra effort needed to unseat an entrenched GOP incumbent. Ferrer, on the other hand, called her and, according to Koppell, assured her that "Roberto would do what he has to do" in November. He also called Thompson, who he says he has "an excellent relationship" with, clearly hoping to win her support.
Instead of a county party unified behind Ferrer, howeverwhich was expected just a few months agoHevesi may be able to pick up the endorsement of Engel, the Koppells, Thompson, and other elected officials who backed Engel. Vallone, who was likely to win the support of some Bronx councilmembers on his own, also can lay claim to the Engel base. Vallone says he called Engel and "volunteered to endorse and campaign for him" because the chalenge against him "involved everything I dislike in politics," with Ramirez "disendorsing Engel because he wasn't the right color, race, or creed."
But the Engel debacle may not merely affect endorsements. Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz says that the turnout in his Riverdale district was 30 percent higher than in the Schumer Senate primary of 1998 and that the poisonous contest may also leave a lasting impression on voters. "It struck a nerve when the incumbent congressman was dumped for all the wrong reasons," says Dinowitz. "It was incredibly offensive to people." Engel's campaign manager, Arnold Linhardt, says Ferrer's and Green's unwillingess to take a position "could hurt them." Neutrality "is not standing up for someone at a crucial point," contends Linhardt, who believes that the impact may "extend beyond the borders of Engel's district."
The animosities were so deep, Engel said, that when he went to the Bronx Democratic dinner in June, his name wasn't even listed on the program as an elected official. "They listed the 16th Congressional District [José Serrano] and the 18th [Nita Lowey], but not mine, the 17th. I was airbrushed out. It was like the old Soviet Union." Seabrook's campaign was so transparently premised on maximizing black votes that a huge wall map in his basement headquarters on White Plains Road ignored Riverdale and colored all the election districts outside it in green ink, labeling them "black homeowners" and indicating that these were the areas he was targeting. Seabrook and Ramirez, however, could not overcome Riverdale's 8000-vote margin for Engel.
Even Ramirez expresses his "regret" that "the Seabrook-Engel campaign was so nasty." But he insists he would make the same choices again, adding that "to stay neutral" in the race would have "gone against everything my job requires." Ramirez denounced Engel's "failure to recognize that there is a constituency out there in need."
Ramirez insists that Seabrook was going to challenge Engel "no matter who I endorsed," and that he merely decided to go with the majority of party and elected officials within Engel's district, who were dissatisfied with the congressman's performance. Seabrook wanted to challenge Engel nowbefore the next reapportionmentfor fear that the lines would be redrawn to dilute the black and Latino majority in the district.
Seabrook's and Bea's losses decimated what was once the strongest black club in the borough, making it a far weaker ally for Ferrer in 2001, when Seabrook is expected to run for the City Council seat that will be vacated by the organization's last elected official, Larry Warden. The only Ferrer gain from Ramirez's Seabrook strategy is that it appears to have secured Reverend Al Sharpton's support in the mayoral contest. Sharpton, a longtime close ally of Seabrook's, has said that he personally negotiated the Seabrook deal with Ramirez.
"If I do not run myself," Sharpton told the Voice, "it is highly likely that I will be for Ferrer. Freddy fulfilled his obligations on the Seabrook race through Roberto. I have no complaints. The coalition is not in any way offset." With the recent success of his joint venture with the King familya revival of the March on WashingtonSharpton is increasingly seeing himself as Jesse Jackson's successor on the national civil rights stage as opposed to a marginal vote-getter in the local political circus. That means endorsing Ferrer would help Sharpton's national alliance-building efforts with Latinos, regardless of the fate of Ferrer's candidacy.
In Brooklyn, Hevesi clearly cemented an alliance with Assemblyman Clarence Norman, who doubles as the county's Democratic leader, and a host of black elected officials close to him, including Owens, Assemblymen Al Vann, Roger Green, William F. Boyland, and Nick Perry, City Councilwomen Annette Robinson and Tracy Boyland, and State Senator Velmanette Montgomery. This entire grouppossibly joined by others who endorsed Owens, including state senators Ada Smith and John Sampson could give Hevesi an election-day operation in Central Brooklyn capable of reducing the majority Mark Green has been getting in polls among black Democrats. Norman, Roger Green, and Owens just won serious primaries, with Hevesi actively supporting all three.