Here are a few highlights on the career of John Sampson, the south Brooklyn state senator who is taking the reins from now-deposed state senate Democratic leader Malcolm Smith.
– Like Smith, Sampson is a soft-spoken pol who hasn’t made a huge impression since he was elected to the senate in 1996. Also like Smith, Sampson has long held a large warm spot in his heart for the real estate industry, whose clout remains undiminished in Albany, be it Democrats or Republicans.
– A former Legal Aid attorney, Sampson figured out early in his career that there was more money to be made representing landlords than tenants. He hooked up with the law firm of Alter & Barbaro, headed by another ex-tenant lawyer who had seen the light, B. Mitchell Alter.
– Alter, a true wild man of the Court Street bar, recognized talent when he saw it. “Yeah, I encouraged him to think about politics,” Alter told the Voice in 2005. “I said, ‘You are a good-looking guy, you talk well. Politics might be a good thing for you.'”
– Sampson beat longtime incumbent Howard Babbush, a hack from the Thomas Jefferson Democratic club. It helped that Babbush had been a notorious semi show in Albany for years; also that the senator had claimed for a decade that he was too ill to face larceny charges brought by Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau in a wide-ranging case against Albany pols.
– Sampson, whose father came from Guyana, won handily with the backing of then Democratic county leader Clarence Norman.
– Fast forward to 2005 when Norman himself faced indictment on multiple charges of embezzlement by District Attorney Joe Hynes, and Sampson decided to run for D.A. Norman was busy going to trial all through the primary season but he still rooted for his candidate. “I will be doing everything in my power to get rid of Joe Hynes by telling all of the people I can to vote for John Sampson,” Norman told the Voice as he entered criminal court shortly before the primary election.
– Hynes’ aides were so worried about Sampson winning and moving to quash all of the pending Norman investigations that they planned to bar him from the office until his inauguration, sources said.
– Sampson’s resume
didn’t impress everyone. The Bar Association found him unqualified, saying he just didn’t have the experience for the job. It hardly mattered. Sampson, the only African American in the campaign, finished a close second to Hynes in a four-way race, giving the D.A. (who has no significant primary opponent so far this year) a good scare.
– One more special highlight from the D.A. race was Sampson’s trip to Israel with another wild man supporter, Democratic Assemblyman Dov Hikind from Brooklyn’s Borough Park. There, Sampson saw something he really didn’t like: orthodox Jewish settlers being ousted from illegal settlements in Gaza. “This in certain ways is like slavery in America,” said Sampson.
– Finally, Sampson could use the exposure his new post will bring: His current senate campaign committee lists just $1,041 in the bank.
Attention, ladies and gentlemen of the Greater Albany League of Lobbyists: The bar is now open!