Former Schumer aide challenges Connor in Senate


By Josh Rogers

A former aide to Senator Chuck Schumer is taking on State Senator Martin Connor in the September ’08 Democratic primary and has already raised over $200,000.

Daniel Squadron, 28, now a political consultant with Knickerbocker SKD, announced his candidacy last week and said his early fundraising success is an indication his chances are good.

Connor, who was first elected to his Downtown Manhattan/Brooklyn district 30 years ago, wasted no time criticizing his opponent, telling the Daily News on Jan. 14 that “it’s nice he wants to get involved. But he’s a kid.”

In an interview the same day, Squadron was clearly bothered by the “kid” reference.

“I think he’d rather go negative than talk about the issues in the district,” he said.

Connor, 62, declined to comment for this article.

Squadron said he would be rolling out specific proposals in the weeks and months to come. He said he would propose new ways to preserve and build affordable housing and limit overdevelopment. He wants to improve schools, as well.

Squadron said reducing traffic is essential. He said he would be open to a congestion pricing plan as long as it did not create new problems outside the pricing zone, and as long as other questions about Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s plan were answered, such as the relatively low fees that would be charged to New Jersey drivers. Squadron said the commission looking into reducing congestion should also be thinking about how to fund subway and bus improvements if it proposes something different than Bloomberg’s plan.

“We need to know how we are going to fund mass transit,” he said. “If there is another good idea that doesn’t involve congestion pricing, that’s fine too.”

Connor has expressed support for traffic pricing also, but he did not back the mayor’s plan last year because he said Bloomberg made political missteps and alienated potential supporters, a charge echoed by other State Senate Democrats.

Squadron worked on the campaign to pass the state’s $2.9 billion transportation bond act, which helped restart construction last year on the decades-delayed Second Ave. subway project.

He helped Schumer write “Positively American,” a bestselling book outlining a national strategy for Democrats to win back middle class voters. Schumer, who engineered the Democratic takeover of the U.S. Senate in 2006, argued in the book that the Democrats failed to recapture the White House in 2004 because they let themselves be defined as being out of the mainstream on a few key issues, including same-sex marriage.

Squadron said he stands by the positions in the book, but he disagrees with Schumer’s opposition to same-sex marriage, and he would vote for it in the State Senate. Connor also supports gay marriage.

Even though Albany incumbents seldom lose re-election bids, Squadron was still very reluctant to criticize Connor directly in the interview. Only when pressed did he say Connor has “been in Albany for 30 years and he’s part of the broken system.”

Connor continues to work part time as an election attorney, whereas Squadron said he would work as a full-time senator if elected. Evan Stavisky, a spokesperson for Connor’s campaign, said Connor’s private legal work is “very limited.”

Squadron has pledged not to take any campaign contributions from lobbyists, corporations or political action committees, commonly called PACs — three sources from which Connor has regularly accepted money.

Stavisky countered that much of Connor’s PAC money comes from unions, and that Squadron’s pledge amounts to an anti-labor stance.

“Unlike young Mr. Squadron, Senator Connor has not inherited family wealth and he has to appeal to groups like labor unions,” Stavisky said. “If Mr. Squadron wants to cut labor out of the process, he should be running as a Republican.”

Squadron called Stavisky’s charge that he is anti-labor because he does not take union money “flat-out absurd. … I strongly support labor,” he said.

Roughly 10 percent of Squadron’s contributions, about $20,000, comes from members of his family.

A review by this reporter of Connor’s campaign contributions over the last three years revealed he has taken money from many labor unions, including S.E.I.U., UNITE and D.C. 37, but he has taken far more money from other political campaigns and has taken significant amounts of money from nonunion PACs and corporations.

In response to Stavisky’s labor defense, Squadron’s campaign analyzed Connor’s contributions over the last two years and found that only 17 percent of Connor’s contributions were from unions and labor PACs, the same percentage that came from political candidates. Nine percent came from corporate entities or lobbyists, and eight percent from non-labor PACs.

“The facts are clear: In his last campaign, Marty Connor took $40,000 from lobbyists, corporations and nonunion political action committees,” Squadron wrote in an e-mail. “Mr. Connor can attack me and my family all he wants. Voters deserve a real discussion about how we can bring change to Albany.”

Stavisky said the only major change needed in Albany is the Democrats winning control of the State Senate, a goal shared by Squadron.

Connor’s spokesperson said Squadron has “no track record in the community.”

In Connor’s 2006 Democratic primary against Ken Diamondstone, he was unsuccessful as an election lawyer — failing to knock Diamondstone off the ballot — but successful as a candidate, winning by more than 10 percentage points in the overwhelmingly Democratic district, where a primary win is virtually tantamount to a general election win.

Diamondstone outspent Connor in 2006, raising close to $1 million. Stavisky said Connor has not raised much money yet, but that he will have enough to run a strong campaign.

The district’s lines have changed during Connor’s tenure. It now is mostly in Lower Manhattan, including the East Village, Lower East Side, Seaport, Financial District, Battery Park City and Tribeca.

Both Connor and Squadron live in Downtown Brooklyn, which represents about 30 percent of the district.

Squadron declined to say whom he was supporting in the presidential race, but praised both Governor Eliot Spitzer and Mayor Mike Bloomberg. He said he supported Spitzer’s effort to reform Albany and backed his aborted effort to provide driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.