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

Progressives go head to head for State Committee

By Ed Gold

A heated battle is shaping up between two longtime political figures, incumbent Larry Moss and challenger Arthur Schwartz, both seeking to represent the 66th Assembly District, which covers Greenwich Village and much of Lower Manhattan, as Democratic state committeeman.

One irony in the race is that both candidates see virtually eye to eye on substantive issues. Both are solidly in the progressive camp, but they differ sharply on which one can be most effective in achieving meaningful results.

Moss sees himself as the “intellectual engine” of a reform group of 60 or 70 — about eight of whom are gay and lesbian, himself included — out of a body of 450 committee members, fighting effectively to move the state party to the left.

Schwartz considers Larry Moss a “resolution writer,” somewhat aloof and a loner, while Schwartz says of himself that he has spent more than a decade organizing important community causes.

Both have had bumps along the political road, Schwartz more recently as he lost two conspicuous allies in State Senator Tom Duane and Councilmember — now Council Speaker — Chris Quinn. The trio had formed a coalition about seven years ago called Lower Manhattan Alliance for Progressive Political Action (LAMAPPA) which while not a large membership organization, did have occasional success in electing a district leader, judicial delegates and county committee members.

Schwartz’s personal issues became a major distraction several years ago and last year alienated both Duane and Quinn, causing Schwartz to become cynicial about “political friendships.”

Schwartz finally straightened out his family difficulties, winding up with a broken marriage, a new marriage, renovation of his house on 11th St. and two new babies to go along with his two teenagers. He then announced he was prepared to seek re-election as district leader, a position he had held for a decade.

He appeared at a forum held by Village Independent Democrats as the only candidate for the post, but Duane and Quinn had other ideas. Working with Assemblymember Deborah Glick, an important figure in V.I.D. and never a Schwartz fan, they persuaded Brad Hoylman, who had run a strong if losing race for Council in Lower Manhattan and whom Schwartz also considered a close friend, to enter the district leadership race at V.I.D., at which point Schwartz pulled out.

Schwartz, with a substantial history at Community Board 2, had supported Maria Passannante Derr for C.B. 2 chairperson and wound up as chairperson of a combined Parks and Waterfront Committee, the areas of community interest closest to his heart.

Schwartz, however, was to endure one further rejection. He had named Lisa Cannistaci, a lesbian who owns Henrietta Hudson, the Hudson St. lesbian bar, as his running mate, but Cannistaci apparently smelled trouble, and abandoned the race to concentrate on her restaurant business.

Moss has survived a few bumpy moments himself, notably four years ago when his home club, Downtown Independent Democrats, turned against him on grounds that he spent virtually no time on club or community activities. In particular, he irked then-Councilmemmber Kathryn Freed, the muscle in D.I.D., causing disarray in club support in both D.I.D. and V.I.D. But Moss managed to edge out his eventual opponent, Larry Goldberg, the candidate of the Village Reform Democratic Club.

A further blow to Moss’s ego two years ago was his loss of the chairpersonship of the State Committee’s Reform Caucus. But he retained the position of vice chairperson for issues and programs and has led the fight in the State Committee against the war in Iraq, against the death penalty and in support of same-sex marriage.

He asserts he has nothing personal against Schwartz and hopes Schwartz stays active on community issues. But he insists Schwartz has no qualifications for the State Committee position, and he calls Schwartz “the me too candidate,” contending that he, Moss, has been “100 times more effective” in moving the state party in a progressive direction.


Endorsements

Moss also notes that he has virtually all the important endorsements in the district, including elected officials.

“I have the councilpeople, including Quinn, Alan Gerson and Rosie Mendez. And Duane also backs me, along with Representative Jerry Nadler,” he noted.

Unlike his problem four years ago, Moss also has D.I.D.’s and V.I.D.’s endorsements in addition to two gay and lesbian clubs, Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats and Stonewall Democrats. LAMAPPA, he noted, is now “just a joke,” part of history.

Schwartz has fewer endorsements to boast of. He has joined V.R.D.C. and has its president and political maven, Ray Cline, as one of his chief advisors. His literature says he runs under the banner of the New Democratic Alliance but Schwartz says that’s just a campaign name like “Friends of Schwartz.”

Schwartz has a few political pros in his camp. Gay activist Alan Roskoff, late of Mark Green’s losing mayoralty race, is supporting him. And his campaign manager is Brad Sussman, who helped Gerson get elected to the Council, then became liaison to C.B. 2 for then-Borough President Virginia Fields. Sussman helped with the transition when new B.P. Scott Stringer got elected, but is no longer with the B.P.’s office.

Schwartz also claims endorsements from former Judge Karen Burstein, who made news in 1994 as a lesbian running for state attorney general in a losing effort. He also has support from Norman Siegel, the civil liberties lawyer, who was unsuccessful last year in challenging Betsy Gotbaum for public advocate.

Roskoff has been named by some of his opponents as contributing to the now infamous anonymous letter that named two C.B. 2 members — Sean Sweeney and Don MacPherson — as unethical and worse, a charge he has vociferously denied. But Moss has a few words about Roskoff: “He’s been in and out of all sorts of clubs. He couldn’t get along in either of the established gay and lesbian clubs, so he started his own gay/lesbian club [the Jim Owles Democratic Club].”

Schwartz sees a sharp contrast between himself and Moss in their approach to politics: “I’ve been a political activist since my high school days,” he said. “I believe in strong community activism, in organizing people so that they can take effective action.

“On parks and recreational activities, for example, I organized parents so we could improve Bleecker and J.J. Walker parks. I led seniors down to City Hall to protest the lack of recreational facilities in the community. I sued the state to get soccer and Little League baseball fields on Pier 40. And I mobilized a huge parent body to campaign for the Hudson River Park Law.” Schwartz sees Moss as above nuts-and-bolts political activism. “Larry didn’t even carry his own petititions [to get registered voters’ signatures to get on the ballot],” he asserts. “I must have gone out at least 20 times with petitions, meeting and talking to people.”

Schwartz added that four years ago, when he backed Moss against Goldberg, “I actually raised most of the money for Moss in that campaign.”

Moss takes sharp exception to that allegation. “All Schwartz did was include my name in literature with all the other candidates he was backing,” he countered. “I had my own fundraiser and we raised $10,000.”

Schwartz goes even further: “Ask people in the district and in political circles and most of them will tell you they never heard of Larry, but they do know me. That’s important in politics.”

Moss responded: “It’s taken a lot of work, but I’m actually one of the few progressives who is well known in the State Committee and among state legislators. I wasn’t afraid to challenge Mario Cuomo when he was governor on budget issues, and I’m prepared to hold Eliot Spitzer’s feet to the fire when he becomes governor on his pledge to support same-sex marriage legislation.”


Antiwar battle

Schwartz’s early literature really provokes Moss, particularly the Schwartz “pledge” to “support an immediate end to the war in Iraq” and “support the right to marry same-sex couples. Make it a law in New York now!”

Said Moss, “I’ve been in the forefront against the Iraq War for four years. I knew in 2001 Bush wanted to invade Iraq. After all, I’m a foreign policy specialist. Even with our minority representation in the State Committee we’ve been effective in taking an antiwar position.”

He added that he had “pleaded with Hillary Clinton to take an antiwar stand,” and still has hopes she will move in the right direction. But he is supporting her for re-election. “I have a 30-year relationship with the Clintons and I’m not going to break it now,” he explained.

On same-sex marriage, he suggests he has fought against great odds in the State Committee but now believes the “progressive position we hold in Greenwich Village” will prevail.

Schwartz, Moss says, has taken the long-standing position he has been fighting for, “but he hasn’t played any role in that fight.”

Both candidates are lawyers. Schwartz has conspicuous union connections, and his union friends have scheduled a fundraiser in early September. Moss works as special counsel for Human Rights Watch, an advocacy group that he says “has a lot of clout at the United Nations.” His job periodically takes him to conferences out of the country, including this summer in Geneva.

Moss seems very confident and appears to have a larger stack of political chips than Schwartz. He makes clear he has no interest in running for any other office and just wants to remain on the State Committee.

It is probably a safe guess to predict that Moss will not be too saddened if the primary race Sept. 12 turns out to be Schwartz’s last hurrah.

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