Volume 76, Number 16 | September 6 - 12, 2006

Friedman/Kavanagh race is one for the ages

By Lincoln Anderson

With the Democratic primary election for Assembly in the East Side’s 74th District next Tuesday, most are calling it a two-person race between the incumbent, Sylva Friedman, and ambitious challenger Brian Kavanagh.

Friedman entered office after winning a special election this March after Steve Sanders announced last year that he was retiring from Albany after holding the seat 28 years. Next Tuesday, however, will be Friedman’s first test in a Democratic primary.

Friedman has the lion’s share of political support.

Kavanagh recently received the endorsement of The New York Times.

The two have similar positions on most of the issues, such as affordable housing and the state allocating the city its fair share of education funding. But they’ve nevertheless been duking it out in a campaign that has gotten personal.

Kavanagh charges Friedman was “selected,” not elected, by “party bosses,” since only about 80 political club members determined who the party’s Democratic nominee would be for the special election to run against the Republican candidate, in a race the Democrat was guaranteed to win.

Meanwhile, Friedman says Kavanagh could well have thrown his hat in the ring too in the nomination process for the special election, but didn’t because he hasn’t done the groundwork to gain political support in the district as she has over the years. Unlike her, Kavanagh has never served on a local community board, she notes.

“When I campaign, people say, ‘I remember you when you were chairperson of the [Community Board 6] Housing Committee or ‘I remember you when you were chairperson of the Homeless Committee in 1988 and we were working on improving the 30th St. men’s shelter,’” Friedman said. “I mean, I’ve been around.”

Friedman, 67, says Kavanagh, 40, has also tried to make an issue of her age. She points to his early campaign materials, which touted him as a “new generation” of leadership in Albany. She also says Sanders, in breaking it to her that he was going to endorse Kavanagh, sent her an e-mail warning her that to be in the Assembly requires a lot of “standing out in the heat and cold.”

“Ageism is as bad as racism and sexism,” Friedman fumed. “I have all the energy, and my brain functions perfectly. When Reagan ran for president the first time, he was 68, and he served for two terms…. Sanders was very, very upset that I beat his chief of staff [Steve Kaufman]” to win the party’s nomination for the special election, Friedman added.

But Kavanagh vehemently denies that he has stooped to ageism and says he, in fact, subsequently promptly removed all references to “energy” in his campaign materials after this became an issue.

“That’s a fiction,” he said. “She is trying to tar me with ageism.”

Kavanagh said by "new generation," he was trying to make a contrast with Sanders having been in Albany for 28 years, hence the "old generation," not Friedman, specifically.

Kavanagh’s new materials say he will be independent while charging that Friedman has fast become an Albany insider cozying up to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

“I think it’s very accurate,” Kavanagh said. “You could see it in the evolution of her stump speech. She says how she thought she wouldn’t be able to get along with Shelly Silver. But it’s quite the opposite.”

Kavanagh says Friedman has only voted against Silver on three bills — including a coyote-hunting bill — and that she once left the Assembly during a vote so that she could attend a fundraiser for her hosted by Silver, no less.

“She’s voting in lockstep with Silver,” Kavanagh said.

Friedman laughs off Kavanagh’s attacks, saying it’s far from the truth.
She says he’s been mounting a negative campaign and that trying to paint her as an insider is just his latest tactic.

“That’s another ridiculous line,” she said. “I’ve been in Albany four months. So it’s hard to blame what goes on in Albany on me. Secondly, I’m extremely, extremely independent, and have been for years…. I never back Shelly’s candidates for judge.”

One recent Kavanagh mailer to voters showed three male hands with cigars, implying that Friedman was engaging in deals in the quintessential “smoke-filled backroom.”

“Did you see the one with the cigars and no heads?” Friedman asked bemusedly of the mailer. “We were trying to figure out which one was me. That was really ridiculous.”

Friedman says that surprisingly she’s found she can work with Silver. As for her voting record, she says most of the differences and disagreements get hashed out at the committee and conference level, not when bills come to a floor for a vote, so that explains her voting record in large part. She admits she left the Assembly Chamber to attend the fundraiser Silver hosted, but that the bills that were up for votes at that moment — including one on Medicaid and another on cigarette taxes — were expected to be “pretty much unanimous.”

“If Kavanagh was there and he needed to raise money, he would go to Shelly — that’s the way it’s done,” she said.

Meanwhile, Friedman takes credit for helping push for an extension on the statute of limitations on civil charges in rape, and Timothy’s Law, which requires insurers that cover physical health to also cover mental health. She’s also backing a bill that would make sex-trafficking a crime.

As for Kavanagh’s getting the Times’s endorsement, Friedman retorted, “The Times is opposed to the tenants’ issues that I’ve been fighting for for years. They’re opposed to rent regulation. They think that the market will work it out. I disagree.”

Kavanagh also slammed Friedman, along with Esther Yang, another candidate in the race, for challenging the petitions of a fourth candidate, Juan Pagan, trying to knock him off the ballot. But Friedman said it was State Committeeman Michael Farrin of Coalition for a District Alternative who was the formal objector to Pagan’s petitions.

“CoDA has a long history of challenging [petitions],” Friedman said. “That was not our doing — we are opposed to that.”

But Kavanagh noted that CoDA is supporting Friedman.

“I believe it was Sylvia Friedman, because Michael Farrin is connected to Sylvia Friedman — it was Sylvia Friedman’s team,” said Pagan of the challenge, which he defeated in court.

“It is what it is,” said Yang. “He’s on the ballot, and I still think I’m the best candidate for job.”

Kavanagh and Friedman are also each claiming support in the district’s housing projects. Kavanagh says he has signed statements from the tenant association presidents of every major project saying they support him. But Friedman says that’s untrue, according to District Leader Anthony Feliciano, who can speak for all the projects south of 14th St. The district stretches from the Lower East Side to the United Nations area.

Silver, 62, is backing Friedman.

“I would like Sylvia to win, yes,” he said. “I think that in a short time, she has become an effective legislator. I think Mr. Kavanagh’s criticisms are inappropriate.”

Yang and Pagan, both first-time political candidates, both say the Shared Parenting Bill spurred them to enter the race. Yang, a yoga teacher who lives in Tudor City near the U.N., said her experience in a bitter custody battle with her former husband has made her oppose the Shared Parenting Bill.

Pagan, head of the Baruch Houses Community Center on the Lower East Side and a resident of the Jacob Riis Houses in the East Village, said he supports the Shared Parenting Bill because he daily sees the problems of “underparented” youth — such as drugs and teen pregnancy — in the community. Current laws encourage breaking up families, he said, while the Shared Parenting Bill would insure both parents have access to their children.

As for the Times’s endorsement, Sean Sweeney, president of Downtown Independent Democrats, said its impact is debatable.

“[Kavanagh] has The New York Times’s endorsement. No one knows what that does,” Sweeney said. “Maybe 5 or 10 percent [difference] in Stuyvesant Town. On the Lower East Side, it will be less important, like 1 percent.”

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