Volume 75, Number 16 | September 07 - 13, 2005

V.R.D.C. looks strong in county committee elections

By Ed Gold

Generally speaking, winning a majority of county committee seats in a Democratic primary election gives the successful Democratic club little more than bragging rights. If the early form holds up, the Village Reform Democratic Club will be able to do most of the bragging, while Village Independent Democrats, the official club in the 66th Assembly District, Part A, which controls the district leadership, will have egg on its face.

District Leader Keen Berger and Brad Hoylman, V.I.D.’ers and unopposed in the election, have sent congratulatory letters to all qualifying county committee candidates, and the breakdown indicates 31 contested districts, with V.I.D. failing to qualify slates in 18 districts, V.R.D.C. in eight.

V.R.D.C. President Ray Cline was all smiles as he noted, “We offered to go 50/50 with V.I.D. but they turned us down. Considering the number of districts in which we are unopposed, they will have a very hard time winning a majority.”

Perhaps the most interesting race will take place in the 111 E.D. in the West Village, which pits a V.I.D. team of Berger, the incumbent district leader, and Patrick Mahon, whose wife is Civil Court Judge Joan Kenney, against an outspoken V.R.D.C. community activist, Harry Malakoff, and gay activist Alan Roskoff, late of the Mark Green mayoral campaign debacle, and for many years a loud voice in V.I.D.’s anti-Koch faction. Roskoff is apparently irked by V.I.D.’s endorsement of Freddie Ferrer for mayor. Four years ago, Ferrer lost to Green in a bitter primary battle that seriously wounded

Green in the mayoral election against Bloomberg.

The list of county committee candidates includes several ironies, surprises and anomalies:

* Arthur Schwartz, the current district leader, who thought until a few months ago he would run unopposed for reelection as a V.I.D. candidate, only to have the political rug pulled out from under him, is instead now running unopposed for county committee under the V.R.D.C. banner, in tandem with his wife, Kelly Craig. In an adjacent district, his mother, Rosalind, with V.R.D.C. endorsement, also runs unopposed.

* There are some strange political bedfellows in the V.R.D.C. camp who are now running under the same umbrella as Schwartz. One is Tom Gass, the veteran V.R.D.C.’er, whom Schwartz, as V.I.D. candidate, soundly trounced for district leader. Then there is Karen Ginsberg, who broadcasts her distaste for Schwartz on her attire, but now runs with the same club sponsorship. She is teamed with Arthur Stoliar, one of the old Koch loyalists who left V.I.D. and helped form V.R.D.C. in the early ’80s.

* It is surprising to find Susan Brownmiller, the writer and feminist, listed as a V.R.D.C. entry. Her politics are conspicuously to the left of most V.R.D.C.’ers. She explains: “They asked me many years ago to run and I said O.K. Their political positions mean nothing to me.” She has usually been unopposed, but this time around there is a V.I.D. slate against her.

* V.R.D.C. seems to have lined up an impressive group of leadership people from Community Board 2, headed by the board chairperson, Maria Passannante Derr, whose uncle Bill wound up his long career in the State Assembly as a member of V.I.D..

Other C.B. 2 officers carrying the V.R.D.C. banner include Mark Rosenwasser and Carol Yankay, as well as committee chairpersons Rick Panson, Phil Mouquinho and the unbiquitous Schwartz. “We thought we had one more key board member,” Cline recalls, “but she turned out to be a registered Republican.” He was not referring to veteran board members Doris Diether or Rosemary McGrath, who long ago made known their

loyalty to the G.O.P.

* The only V.I.D. entry with important C.B. 2 connections is Hoylman, the incoming district leader, who is the board’s first vice chairperson. But V.I.D. is also running a former C.B. 2 chairperson, Carol Feinman, and State Committeewoman Rachel Lavine, also once a C.B. 2 member.

Cline, feeling his oats, claims that “V.R.D.C. runs some of our best people” in the 66th A.D., Part B, where the official club is the Downtown Independent Democrats, which represents a piece of the Central Village.

He named as one example Lois Rakoff, co-president of BAMRA, the Bleecker Area Merchants and Residents Association. Rakoff ran a weak third behind Berger in the district leadership race two years ago in the 66th A.D., Part A, and had considered running against Berger again this year. She settled for the county committee race but “she is still politically ambitious,” Cline asserts.

There are circumstances when the county committee is called upon to make serious decisions, such as when incumbents die in office. It was the county committee that chose Bella Abzug to replace Congressmember Bill Ryan, and Jerry Nadler to fill the House seat held by Ted Weiss.

Also, when then Congressmember Ed Koch won his party’s nomination for mayor in 1977 a flock of Democrats wanted to fill his seat representing the so-called “Silk Stocking District.” I was a V.I.D. county committeeman during that all-day marathon, with the weakest candidate being dropped after each round of voting. I stayed with Al Lowenstein, then one of the most eloquent progressives in our party, until he was eliminated, then switched to Bella Abzug, who eventually won the party designation and proceeded to lose the seat to the Republicans in November.

My early history running for county committee was dismal, to say the least. I ran for years in a district loyal to the famous Tammany leader Carmine DeSapio, losing handily each time to one of his captains, who happened to be my landlord; for years he accused me of being a disloyal tenant.

But I also had one exhilarating experience in connection with a county committee election. In 1961, when I was V.I.D. president and the club was seeking the district leadership against DeSapio, he was also running for a county committee seat. Shortly before the primary, I received an anguished call from our county committee coordinator; one of our county committee candidates in DeSapio’s district had died and we needed an immediate replacement. I told them to run my wife, Annalee, who considered political activism akin to having a root canal.

On primary night, we beat DeSapio for district leader; my wife edged out DeSapio for the county committee seat and The New York Times mentioned her in its election coverage.

When she arrived at work the next day, her colleagues were marching around her office with signs reading: “Annalee in ’63!”

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