Dem Party Animals

As New York's Democrats prepare to take charge, reform vows take a backseat

"Jonathan's campaign is about ending the war and about preserving civil liberties," said Joanne Seminara, a party district leader and delegate from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, who sought to present Tasini's petition and candidacy to the convention. "Those are both issues that I am disappointed that Hillary has not come out for."

"What's remarkable," said Tasini, who is now petitioning to force a primary against Clinton, "is that if I hadn't come to the convention there would been no discussion about the war at all."

But the most revealing episodes of old-style, heavy-handed arm-twisting by party bosses took place amid the only real Democratic horse race this year, the contest for attorney general nomination. Front-runner Andrew Cuomo was credited with a major victory when he logged an overwhelming 67 percent of the delegate vote, leaving the next highest contender, Mark Green, in the dust with 19 percent. Thanks to the party rules, Green too was denied a speaking platform at the convention, even though he was once the party's senatorial nominee and held its banner in the 2001 mayoral campaign.

Yet Cuomo's lopsided total was achieved only after some raw politics, the kind of tactics he and his father, Mario, both denounced at conventions past when they were the outsiders looking in.

Consider the case of Dilia Schack, a veteran Brooklyn Democratic leader who signed her proxy for Green weeks before the convention when she left the country for a trip to Israel, unsure whether or not she would attend the convention personally. After her return, Schack decided to go to Buffalo, but upon arrival she was hit with what friends termed "nonstop" pressure from top Democrats to switch to Cuomo, who had already been pledged support by the majority of Brooklyn's delegation. Feeling ill, Schack decided just to go home.

At that point, the apparent goal wasn't to make sure Cuomo made it past the minimum 25 percent threshold needed to get on the ballot, but to block Green or anyone else from qualifying for ballot status as well. The strongest pressure on Schack came from Brooklyn Democratic boss Vito Lopez, the assemblyman who took over from the disgraced Clarence Norman. Lopez, who vowed to run the party with a new inclusiveness and openness, had a top aide chase Schack to the Buffalo airport. As the Daily News' Ben Smith reported, Schack was coaxed into signing a new proxy just after she passed through the airport security check on her way to her flight.

Schack refused to discuss the incident. "It's too upsetting," she said. But Lopez's chief of staff, Allison Hirsch, confirmed to the Voice that she had gone to the airport with the new proxy form in hand and gotten Schack to sign it. "Vito's goal as party leader is to have political credibility. The leaders, along with Dilia, had overwhelmingly endorsed Andrew, and Vito wanted to maintain that consistency."

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