Sheldon Silver dominated the 65th Assembly District for almost 40 years, as much a fixture as the Manhattan Bridge. His conviction on public corruption charges last year ended the career of one of the most powerful men in New York. It also opened a once-impossible-to-crack seat.
At least, that seat should have been open. A special election in the spring to fill out his term was won by Alice Cancel, whose nomination was arranged by Silver loyalists. Tuesday’s primary in the heavily Democratic district — which includes much of lower Manhattan in addition to Chinatown and the Lower East Side — gives voters a better chance to choose from among a wide swath of candidates. Cancel has not proved that she deserves more time in Albany. She has supported questionable ideas like a financial services act that would open the door to predatory lending.
Luckily, a few of the other candidates are far more impressive, demonstrating the benefits of open, contested races.
Three in particular deserve close attention. Paul Newell is a district leader and a longtime advocate for tenants and affordable housing who challenged Silver in 2008. Yuh-Line Niou, chief of staff to Queens Assemb. Ron Kim and the nominee of the Working Families Party, has been a creative staffer who fought hard for immigrant rights here and in her former home, Washington State.
But Gigi Li has all the tools to be the district’s best representative on Day One. As a community board chair with deep roots in the district, she ably and professionally served the community’s needs, fighting for affordable housing and raising flags about Rivington House, where a lifted deed restriction gave developers the right to turn a nursing home into luxury condos. Mayor Bill de Blasio said he never saw her Jan. 27 letter of concern about Rivington. Li is a trained social worker, passionate about universal prekindergarten and expansion of after-school programs.
No replacement for Silver will quickly ascend to the former speaker’s level of power in Albany. Li will be able to deftly see to her diverse constituents’ needs, from the towers of Battery Park City to the apartments of Grand Street. But more important, she will be a fresh face and a new voice in Albany — and that could benefit both her district and the state.
AmNewYork endorses Li.