Connor and Diamondstone vie for State Senate in 25th District

By David Spett

In State Senate District 25, which includes most of Lower Manhattan and part of Brooklyn, 28-year veteran and former Senate Minority Leader Martin Connor is facing a primary challenge from landlord and political neophyte Ken Diamondstone.

Diamondstone has spent about a quarter-million dollars of his own money on the campaign. He is harshly critical of Connor and has proposed a broad agenda for change, saying it is time to shake up Albany. Connor, too, is extremely critical of his opponent, calling him inexperienced and saying his negative campaigning has gone too far.

On some major issues, the two candidates expressed similar views. For example, both said development is the biggest problem facing the district.

“Development is the overarching issue, but it manifests itself in different ways,” Diamondstone said in a telephone interview. School overcrowding, gentrification and a loss of affordable housing are all problems related to development, he said.

“The city will become a place simply for the rich,” he added.

Diamondstone is proposing a ballot referendum that would create 100,000 affordable housing units in New York City.

Connor, too, said overdevelopment and gentrification are hurting the city.

“I’m very concerned about what’s going to happen to those middle- and working-class families,” Connor said. “Are they going to be able to live here? Is it going to be like Paris, where the lowest paid workers have to bear the cost of commuting to get to their jobs? It’s more and more urgent.”

Both candidates also agree that the increase in bars and clubs has become a serious problem.

“Obviously, I’ve addressed the overproliferation of bars, nightclubs and [alcohol] licenses,” Connor said.

But Diamondstone said more action is needed. He wants people from the city appointed to the State Liquor Authority, and he insists that they enforce the 500-foot rule, which prevents the agency from issuing alcohol licenses if there are already three or more licensed establishments within a 500-foot radius, unless the license is found to be in the public interest.

Diamondstone said even though he and Connor have similar stances on development and alcohol licenses, Connor has missed opportunities to take action on these matters.

“Connor talks about his 28 years in office, but it’s not the length of time, it’s what you’ve accomplished in that length of time, and there are real problems with his service,” Diamondstone said.

But Connor, who is considering another run for minority leader after being ousted by David Paterson in 2002, said he has proven himself in the past 28 years.

“Diamondstone makes a lot of charges, and he brings up a lot of issues in a simple way,” Connor said. “Every problem or legislative proposal has a simple answer that’s usually wrong. An effective legislator has a nuanced position.”

Connor said one of his greatest accomplishments this year was securing an $11.2 billion school construction package.

“You can’t make smaller class sizes unless you have [more] classrooms,” Connor said. “That’s the first priority, we have addressed that and I’m very proud of that.”

While both candidates are progressive, Diamondstone’s proposed agenda is broader than Connor’s.

The challenger is calling for significant campaign finance reforms that would make elections essentially government financed.

“A system that’s in place in several states now requires obtaining a certain threshold of small contributors, and that varies depending on the elected office, and once you reach that threshold, then the state government absorbs the cost of the campaign,” Diamondstone said. “That levels the playing field completely so that undue influence cannot be brought to bear by special interests.”

Attacked by his opponent for spending what may end up to be a half million dollars of his own money, Diamondstone said that is the only way for anyone to have any chance against a longtime incumbent like Connor.

Diamondstone’s other ideas include easing ballot access for prospective political candidates; returning the Division of Housing and Community Renewal’s supervision over rent-regulated housing to city control; developing a rail-freight tunnel to New Jersey; expanding the city’s port so deeper ships can dock; promoting stem cell research; and funding environmentally friendly renewable energy.

“We have to rebuild our rail infrastructure and our water-freight system,” he went on, “so that we can become less dependent on diesel trucks that are polluting our infrastructure and cause asthma among the kids and early death because of lung disease among our seniors.”

Connor accused Diamondstone of misstating Connor’s vote on a health care bill in a recent mailer.

“This is what’s wrong with politics,” Connor said. “A wealthy guy, desperate to win a seat, has to lie about my record.”

Nearly every local politician — the only notable exception being Congressmember Major Owens — has endorsed Connor. Coalition for a District Alternative, which initially endorsed Diamondstone by one vote, rescinded its endorsement a week later under pressure from local politicians and decided not to endorse any candidate.

The Connor campaign attempted to have Diamondstone removed from the Democratic primary ballot for failing to meet residency requirements. Despite an initial 8-0 decision by the Board of Elections in Connor’s favor, later appeals reversed that decision.

“It really was just a tremendous waste of time and money,” said Jesse Danzig, a Diamondstone spokesperson.

The New York Times has suggested voters support Diamondstone, calling Connor “the go-to man for politicians who want to get pesky challengers off the ballot.”

Connor disagreed.

“That’s a real, real simpleton analysis of what election lawyers do,” he said. “A majority of my clients have been people I’ve been keeping on the ballot.”

Diamondstone’s brother Peter is a perennial candidate for office in the state of Vermont, but he has not won any general elections.

If Diamondstone loses the Democratic primary on Sept. 12, he will run on the Working Families Party line.