Volume 75, Number 25 | November 09 -15, 2005

Kaufman and Friedman hope to run for Sanders’s seat

By Lincoln Anderson

Sylvia Friedman
Villager photo by Elisabeth Robert
Steve Kaufman
While all eyes were focused on Tuesday’s elections, a special election could be shaping up in a few months to fill Assemblymember Steve Sanders’s seat. Just a few weeks ago, Sanders announced that after 28 years in the Assembly, he plans to retire from the Legislature at the end of this year. Assuming Governor Pataki calls a special election in January, a special election that would also fill vacancies in several other New York City and Long Island seats, could be held as soon as February.

After the election is called, the Democratic and Republican nominees will be elected by the County Committee of their respective parties, after which the public will vote in the special election.

Initially, many thought Councilmember Margarita Lopez — who is being term-limited out of office at the end of this year and whose Council District 2 includes much of Sanders’s 74th Assembly District — would naturally want to run for the seat. The Assembly district stretches from the Lower East Side up to the United Nations. However, it now appears that Lopez may have dropped out in deference to Sanders’s openly backing his longtime chief of staff, Steve Kaufman, to succeed him.

In addition, Sylvia Friedman, Democratic state committeewoman out of the Gramercy-Stuyvesant Independent Democrats club, is also running. Another name being mentioned is Jane Crotty, who works for George Arzt public relations and represents such clients as New School University and East Village Community Coalition. Also, former District Leader Donald Tobias, former president of the defunct Tilden Democratic Club, is reportedly interested in running.

As Sanders tells it, his recent announcement that he was retiring from the Assembly came as a total surprise to most, including Lopez. He said a week after the announcement, Kaufman told him he was interested in running. At that point, Sanders said, the first call he made was to Lopez. She asked him if there was any candidate he was hoping would succeed him; Sanders told her he planned to support Kaufman, and she indicated she would defer to Sanders’s choice.

“Margarita was gracious — and magnanimous is not the word,” Sanders said. “Margarita indicated to me she would be respectful to me of my view in this regard. She strongly suggested to me that if I felt strongly about a particular candidate, she would strongly respect that and she would be motivated to support that candidate, as well. Steve Kaufman has indicated he wants to succeed me and I support him in that decision.”

Lopez and Crotty did not return calls for comment.

Calling him already a “surrogate representative” of the district for him, Sanders said Kaufman would be a terrific representative.

“I feel were he to win, the district wouldn’t miss a beat,” he said, “because he’s been doing all these things already.

As for Friedman, Sanders said, “She should run — she’s earned it.”

Sanders did note that Pataki has the option of not calling a special election at all, in which case the seat would remain vacant until November 2006

“Who knows what political calculations are being made?” he wondered. Sanders pointed out that two Long Island Republican assemnblymembers were likely to win elections to different offices, so Pataki might fear losing those seats to Democrats in a special election. In addition to Sanders’s retiring, another Manhattan Assembly seat will become vacant on Jan. 1, when Scott Stringer becomes borough president. A Democratic Assembly seat is also vacant in Brooklyn.

Ultimately, however, Sanders predicts Pataki will call the special election, which would be for all the vacant seats.

Kaufman is very enthusiastic about running for the 74th Assembly District.

“I am not just thinking. I am out there. I am running,” he told The Villager. “I’m really excited about this.” Kaufman said, though adding, “Had Margarita run, I would not have run.”

While Kaufman, who is openly gay, said he plans to work very hard to get elected and predicts he’ll win, he knows that, if elected, he might face a challenge in the primary election in September 2006.

Friedman said she’s definitely running, too. She noted she’s won a few “races on the streets,” for district leader and state committee.

“I think based on what I’ve done for the district and the party, I ought to win it,” Friedman said. “And I hope I can convince people of that.” She’s head of the Reform Caucus in the State Committee, having defeated Larry Moss of Soho in an election for the post.

Of Kaufman, she said, “I think he’s a very nice guy, but I don’t know what he’s done in the community on his own. I think what he’s done has always been on behalf of Sanders.”

County Committee members from the district’s four Democratic clubs will vote for the nominee.

“This is pretty much based on how well you are known in the clubs,” Friedman explained. “And boy are they excited about this,” she said of G.S.I.D., her home club. “Tremendous enthusiasm in the club. They are serious progressives — and see me as a serious progressive. I hope it will be a real election — and not settled in the backrooms, as happens so often. Everyone in this district claims to be a reformer — so that would be the reform thing to do.”

Some wonder if there is lingering resentment against Friedman at the district’s biggest club, Coalition for a District Alternative, over a past primary election in the 1990s when Friedman decided to run against incumbent Councilmember Antonio Pagan, which backers of Miriam Friedlander felt foiled her bid to regain the seat by splitting the anti-Pagan vote.

“I very much wanted to defeat Pagan and I thought I could do it,” Friedman said. “I think some of them will never forgive me and some of them will move on.”

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