Monday, September 08, 2008

The Race for New York's 21st Senate District Seat

I got a call yesterday from a young woman working for City Councilman Simcha Felder, a local Democrat who is seeking to unseat local Democratic State Senator Kevin Parker in the Democratic Primary tomorrow. Felder is a religious man whose attire includes displays of religious fundamentalism and who actively opposes same-sex marriage.

This young woman wanted to ask for my support for the Councilman.

The call went something like this:

Me: "Oh, I'm glad you've called. I've written the Councilman and called trying to talk to someone about his campaign, but nobody ever answers the phone or responds to my emails."

Worker: "Oh! I'm sorry about that."

Me: "No big deal! Now that you are on the phone, you can answer some questions."

Worker: "Sure!"

I asked: "What is the Councilman's position on reproductive freedom?"

Worker: "Um . . . I don't really know."

Me: "Well, OK, never mind. What is the Councilman's position on same-sex marriage?"

Her: "I don't know. I can ask."

Me: "Please do."

I hold for about a minute or so, maybe a little longer.

Her: "Hi. Sorry, I don't know his position; but, I can give you a phone number where you can call him right now and ask him."

Me: "Well, you called me and it's Sunday afternoon with my family and I'm not really interested in making another phone call that I've already made a number of times before. You've called me! I'd expect that you would know the Councilman's positions if you are working for him."

Her: "Yeahhhhhhhh . . . well I'm not sure, but you can call this number I have."

Me: "You are working for this guy and you don't know his positions? What if you disagree with his positions?"

Her: "I hadn't thought about that. I can give you a number to call."

Me: "No thank you; but, thank you for calling."


The state senate race in my district is actually a real political race with candidates who differ from each other substantially enough that it is worth investigating their records, positions, and tactics. One is a self-avowed class-clown, one is caught-up in the scandal of funds embezzled from the city council, one was accused of attacking a traffic cop who was writing him a ticket, one is a Caribbean immigrant, one is an orthodox Jew, one is a three-term incumbent.

The 21st is a typical modern-Brooklyn district smack-dab in the middle of the borough. With well over 300,000 residents, it starts with the solidly Jewish, predominantly fundamentalist community of Borough Park on the West, crosses to Kensington and Prospect Park South whose demographics are being changed rapidly by the migration of white hipsters and young professionals into the area, to the beautiful gentrifying Victorian district of Ditmas Park whose stately homes are attracting a solid economic base of well-heeled New Yorkers, into the geographically massive, solidly black and politically valuable Flatbush area (which includes the neighborhoods of Farragut, and Rugby), ending in East Flatbush and the very tough Remsen Village.

Incumbent Kevin Parker, at 41, is the youngest of the three Democrats vying for the party nomination. He is also on the Working Families Party ticket. He has done well in Albany as Democratic Whip and ranking member of the Energy and Telecommunications Committee. He built his political career in the offices of Democratic leaders in city government, and can turn to his roots in Flatbush where he was raised and educated for the majority of his life. Parker's once-promising political career has been hampered by well-publicized violent bursts of anger, some obvious and some alleged.

City Council Member Simcha Felder has entered the race. New York City's ridiculous term limits require Felder to vacate his city council seat, and he has set his sights on Albany. Felder was expected to seek the city comptroller's position, a job seemingly well-suited for him and his talents. Felder is a religious man, who displays his orthodoxy in dress and political positions. He opposes homosexuality and same-sex marriage. I have been unable to find information about his position on reproductive freedom, but I do not hold-out any hope that he is a 20th-century, never mind a 21st-century, thinking man.

Though I am a religious person, I am deeply suspicious of orthodoxy and parochialism. I could never support any candidate who uses their religion to prevent women and homosexuals from having complete control over their lives and loves. I could never vote for Councilman Felder, and I urge my friends, neighbors, and readers to vote against him.

City Council Member Kendall Stewart, who defeated Senator Parker in a previous city council race is also being forced from office by term limits. Stewart is an unimpressive politician who seems to base at least part of his strategy on leveraging his ethnicity in this largely Afro-Caribbean district.

I have written to each of them asking that they tell me their positions on reproductive freedom, same-sex marriage, and charter schools.

Parker is running the comfortable campaign of an incumbent. I recently received a glossy flyer ostensibly written by Parker's mother, Georgie, which is a tactic that has worked well for Parker in his previous elections. It's a very effective ad in which she brags about his accomplishments in the Senate and the values she instilled in her son.

Parker's glossy broadside stands in stark contrast to the Karl Rove-like mailings from Felder's campaign. With an impressive war-chest exceeding a million dollars, Felder is producing very slick broadsides focusing on dead children and tabloid articles, screaming histrionics and accusations that the incumbent is soft on crime. Felder's campaign materials are offensive and unconvincing. Unless, of course, you read crap like the Daily News and New York Post, watch Fox News, and believe GOP ringmasters who are destroying our nation. He is a Democrat much the way Joe Lieberman is a Democrat. That is, he is not really a Democrat at all.

Parker has won the endorsement of the Empire State Pride Agenda who say he "is a strong supporter of the LGBT community and votes correctly on all of our issues." Parker also carries the endorsements of the WFP and the United Federation of Teachers.

The Pride Agenda goes on to explain:
His challengers are New York City Councilmembers Kendall Stewart, who is against marriage equality, and Simcha Felder, who is against marriage equality and has voted a number of times against pro-LGBT legislation in New York City, including a bill protecting transgender people from discrimination.

Planned Parenthood of New York also endorses Kevin Parker.

So, it is easy for me to vote for the incumbent, and I look forward to an exciting race. The incumbent is not guaranteed the nomination, but from where I sit in Kengsington, Brooklyn, the incumbent looks like the best bet. If you live in this district, I hope you will vote for Kevin Parker, too.


Senator Parker's website

Councilman Felder's website

Councilman Stewart's website

The Empire State Pride Agenda Endorsement of Kevin Parker

21st State Senate candidates debate last night; the gloves are off, at the Brooklyn Junction blog

In Flatbush, Running with Baggage, by Giovanni Russonello, at Gotham Gazette

Felder Shakes Up State Senate Race, at the New York Times

Council Indictments Overshadow a Senate Bid, an article about Stewart at the New York Times

Senator Is Accused of Punching a Traffic Agent Over a Ticket, a 2005 article about Parker at the New York Times

Republican, and fake Independent billionaire Michael Bloomberg endorses Felder, at Topix

Dick Mac Recommends:

No comments: