Martin Connor and Daniel Squadron
In a shocker, D.I.D. backs Squadron over Connor
By Julie Shapiro
In an upset vote that members described as “stunning” and “shocking,” the Downtown Independent Democrats endorsed Daniel Squadron over incumbent State Senator Martin Connor.
The vote was a boost for Squadron, who is challenging Connor over the Downtown Manhattan-and-Brooklyn seat Connor has held for 30 years.
“This was a big day for my campaign because of D.I.D.’s track record of winning,” Squadron told The Villager. “These are true community leaders who are engaged in civic life and the political process.”
Squadron received 23 votes to Connor’s 18, and one member voted for no endorsement.
Sean Sweeney, president of D.I.D., kept quiet about his choice but said D.I.D.’s endorsement is significant: It could supply Squadron with 500 votes in the primary. While Connor has an advantage as an incumbent, Squadron won the D.I.D. endorsement partly because he spent more time courting club members in the months leading up to the vote, Sweeney said.
Also, some D.I.D. members are still getting to know Connor. When the district lines were redrawn after the 2000 census, Connor lost Greenpoint and Williamsburg and gained Soho, Tribeca and Battery Park City. That gave Connor a large chunk of D.I.D. territory, Sweeney said.
“Although [Connor] has been an incumbent for 30 years, he is relatively new to many voters in Lower Manhattan,” Sweeney said. “A lot of people have not had time to work with him, to build longtime personal bonds.”
Squadron partly credited his D.I.D. win to his door-knocking campaign at Independence Plaza North and Southbridge Towers, among other large complexes.
“A huge part of the job is getting out there, being personally accountable to folks,” Squadron said. “I’m running my campaign the way I’m going to serve: aggressively focusing on our goals and spending time in the community.”
Connor, though, said the only reason Squadron has time to knock on doors is because he has no other job. Squadron stopped working as a political consultant to devote himself full-time to his campaign.
Meanwhile, Connor said his own work in the State Senate keeps him away from his district.
“The public didn’t elect me to State Senate to skip Albany and the legislative session to knock on doors,” Connor said. Once the session ends in three weeks, “I’ll knock on plenty of doors, believe me,” he said.
John Scott, a D.I.D. member and tenant leader at Independence Plaza, voted for Squadron because he likes Squadron’s energy and his focus on bringing home rule to the city.
“We need a progressive person in that seat to push for things that New York City needs,” Scott said. “[Squadron] is young and it’s time for a change.”
Squadron, 28, is marketing his youth as an advantage, not a liability.
“When it comes to the present culture of Albany, where with each year comes an erosion of idealism and independence, I’m happy to be inexperienced,” Squadron wrote in a letter to D.I.D. members. “I’m running with a belief that with real hope, with a willingness to take risks and stand up strongly on issues of importance, we can do more for our neighborhoods.”
But not everyone believes in Squadron’s message of change.
“I’ve known Marty Connor a long time, and I think he’s a terrific guy,” said David Reck, a D.I.D. member. “I see no reason to remove him.”
Reck, also a Community Board 2 member, credited Connor with getting a New York City commissioner appointed to the State Liquor Authority. It is important for the S.L.A. to understand the city’s densely packed housing and nightlife when they make liquor license decisions, Reck said. Connor added that the new commissioner, Noreen Healey, is behind the S.L.A.’s stricter enforcement of the 500-foot rule, which limits new liquor licenses.
After the D.I.D. vote, Connor revealed new information about the work he does as an election lawyer, in addition to his job as state senator. Connor, 63, works between 30 and 150 hours a year at his small election law practice, he said. With a billing rate of $600 an hour, Connor said his legal practice brings him $18,000 to $90,000 annually.
The public will soon have all these details, and more, when Connor makes his tax returns for the last five years public. Squadron announced in April that he would release his last year’s tax returns when Connor released his, and Connor said this week that he will release five years of returns in June.
“Why not do it?” Connor said. Connor’s decision to release his returns does not mean he is worried about the race, he said. Connor did not release his returns during the 2006 primary race, when he faced challenger Ken Diamondstone, but that was because Diamondstone did not ask about the returns, Connor said.
Connor added that there is a myth that he is a wealthy lawyer, but the returns will prove otherwise. He said he has no stocks, bonds or investments — and he does not even have a savings account.
When people ask Connor why he doesn’t just finance his campaign himself, he just laughs. “Not when I’ve served in the State Senate all these years,” he said.
Connor has raised $80,000 to $90,000 for his campaign so far. Squadron had raised over $200,000 in January and will not release new fundraising numbers until July.
Eight political clubs in Manhattan and Brooklyn have endorsed Connor, including Village Reform Democratic Club, where Squadron got four votes to Connor’s 21, and the Coalition for a District Alternative (CoDA), where Squadron received no votes.
Connor pointed to those endorsements, along with support from his colleagues in the State Senate, as evidence that his candidacy is strong.
In March, Squadron received an endorsement from the Working Families Party, which supported Diamondstone in 2006. Squadron also netted the endorsement of U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, who generally endorses incumbents. Squadron worked for Schumer as an aide and co-authored a book with him.
D.I.D. did not entirely shun incumbents in its recent vote, as the club overwhelmingly supported Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver for re-election. Silver received 36 votes, while opponents Luke Henry and Paul Newell each received three votes.
After the D.I.D. vote, Scott, a Squadron supporter, said he lost faith in Connor when the State Senate replaced Connor as minority leader in 2002. The Senate elected David Paterson, now governor, instead.
Connor replied that “virtually every state senator” supports his re-election bid. “It’s not like I don’t have good standing in the conference,” he said. Besides, Connor’s constituents get much more of his attention now that he’s not Senate minority leader, he said.
D.I.D.’s endorsement of Squadron surprised Julie Menin, D.I.D. member and chairperson of Community Board 1. Menin voted for Connor because of his history of bringing amenities like new schools to the community. Squadron may have won the D.I.D. endorsement because new Downtown residents do not have a history of working with Connor, Menin said.
Julie Nadel, another D.I.D. member, voted for Squadron. She likes Squadron’s ideas about protecting communities and quality of life, and as an example she cited his plan for a more comprehensive process of evaluating liquor licenses.
“I think he’s going to win,” Nadel said. “I thought that from when I first met him. … He would be a breath of fresh air, for Albany and the district.”