Kerry wins Downtown support


By Lincoln Anderson with Josh Rogers

Two Downtown Democratic political clubs endorsed John Kerry for president within the past week, becoming the first Manhattan Democratic political clubs to throw their support behind the surging candidacy of the Massachusetts senator.

The Village Reform Democratic Club laid claim to being the first political club in Manhattan to endorse Kerry and Downtown Independent Democrats followed suit a few days later.

Eighty-eight percent, or 15, of the V.R.D.C. members attending last Thursday’s meeting at Greenwich House on Barrow St. backed Kerry, one voted for former Vermont governor Howard Dean — Howard Hemsley, who has been volunteering on the Dean campaign — and one voted for Senator John Edwards of North Carolina.

Speaking on behalf of Kerry were Congressmember Carolyn Maloney — who went to New Hampshire twice to campaign for him — and former Public Advocate Mark Green.

“Don’t just vote to send a message, vote to send a president,” Maloney said using a line from Kerry’s stump speech. She cited Kerry’s record on environmental and homeland security. “The tide has turned,” Maloney said, “and I believe that V.R.D.C. is but the first of many Democratic clubs in Manhattan who are rallying to John Kerry’s candidacy.”

Ray Cline, a V.R.D.C. vice president, said, “V.R.D.C. has news for Howard Dean’s hired operatives, who were so smugly describing New York as the ‘firewall’ that would assure his inevitable nomination: the ‘firewall’ is made of kindling, and it’s going up in flames.”

Cline previously was U.S. Rep. Richard Gephardt’s New York City director, until Gephardt dropped out of the race after the Iowa caucuses.

Brice Peyre, a V.R.D.C. member and former president of Stonewall Democratic Club, a gay political club, will be on the March 2 New York primary ballot running as a delegate for Kerry. Peyre said he’s the only openly gay delegate candidate running in Maloney’s 14th Congressional District.

On Monday night, over 50 members of Downtown Independent Democrats showed up at the Puffin Gallery in Soho for the club’s presidential endorsement vote. Kerry received 22 votes, with Dean coming in a distant second with eight, followed by three for Edwards, two for Dennis Kucinich and one for Joe Lieberman.

(Only 36 members voted, because some had to leave before the vote.)

Former State Senator Catherine Abate spoke for Kerry and former state Assembly candidate and gun-control advocate Jesse Velona made a surprise appearance to speak for Edwards.

Sean Sweeney, D.I.D.’s president, said, “Kerry won by a landslide…. It was very interesting, there were two older D.I.D. members in their 50s who were Dean supporters and who worked on McGovern’s campaign. One of them changed to Kerry because he said he saw the same thing happening as in the McGovern campaign — that he burst early, but he was going down in flames and he was very ideological.”

Sweeney said that there had been strong support in the club for both Dean and Kerry — Kerry’s sister, Peggy, was the local Democratic state committeewoman before Rachel Lavine — but that he personally liked Gen. Wesley Clark (Ret.) for his intelligence — a big asset against Bush, he noted — and his military background as NATO’s top commander.

“There’s a pragmatic wing, Clark; an ideological wing, Dean; and a favorite-son wing, Kerry, because of Peggy Kerry,” Sweeney had said of D.I.D.’s breakdown, a week before the club’s vote.

Downtown Express queried some local Democratic politicians and leaders from other clubs recently on who they’re supporting for the primary nomination.

Councilmember Alan Gerson, who has close ties to D.I.D. and V.R.D.C., sounded like he was leaning toward endorsing Kerry. Told on Tuesday that exit polls showed that Kerry was leading in five of the seven primaries and caucuses, Gerson said “certainly Sen. Kerry would be an outstanding candidate.”

Gerson wants to hear more about the candidates’ positions on affordable housing and urban issues before he endorses in New York’s March 2 primary. Gerson also sounded as if he was giving Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina a closer look than Dean. He said he is considering Edwards “strongly.” Is he strongly considering Dean? “I’m going to make my endorsement when I make my endorsement,” was the reply.

Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats, a Manhattan political club with a strong Downtown presence, came out early for Dean. Brad Hoylman, president of GLID, was thinking of leading a group up to New Hampshire to campaign for Dean the weekend before the primary, but ended up not going because their driver couldn’t make it. Yet, while Dean has lost his frontrunner status and maybe even his chance at the nomination after his screaming speech in Iowa, Hoylman said Dean has reinvigorated the Democrats.

“He’s given our party a spine again,” Hoylman said. “He’s reenergized the party single-handedly, no matter who the [winning] candidate is.”

Dean probably has the most support among local politicians, counting among his supporters Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, State Senator Tom Duane, Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, City Councilmember Christine Quinn and City Council Speaker Gifford Miller.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver had endorsed Sen. Joseph Lieberman, but Lieberman dropped out of the race Tuesday.

Although Village Independent Democrat’s membership is still split and hasn’t come to an endorsement, Chad Marlow, V.I.D.’s president, said he personally likes Kerry.

“I have been a steadfast Kerry supporter from the get-go,” he said. “It wasn’t looking to good for a while, but I’m glad we got things turned around.”

In a recent interview, Councilmember Margarita Lopez said she still hasn’t endorsed. “I think we need to know more about the positions of the candidates,” she said. Yet, Lopez feels the excitement and competitiveness of the Democratic field of candidates is positive any way you look at it and has put “passion” back into the presidential race.

“This is good for the party, good for the process — the process working itself out in front of the eyes of the voters,” Lopez said, assuring, “You will see me endorsing pretty soon.”

Some Democrats however, who have never voted for a Republican presidential candidate in their lives are thinking of doing the unthinkable. One former Democratic district leader, who spoke strictly on condition of anonymity, confided he was strongly considering voting for Bush, noting, “What’s he’s done has changed the whole situation in the Middle East.”

Former Mayor Ed Koch has endorsed Bush.

To clinch the Democratic nomination, a candidate needs to have won the votes of 2,159 electoral delegates. Pundits are predicting the date when one of the candidates will have the nomination sewn up.

Speaking at New School University a few weeks ago, Senator John McCain said the Democratic winner will be decided by March 2, when there are 10 primaries, including New York’s; former Senator Bob Kerrey, New School president, predicted it will all be over by March 10, possibly March 9.

McCain, who ran four years ago against Bush in the Republican primary, said he was concerned about how “compressed” the primary elections have become — with 17 elections loaded into the two “super” primary days on Feb. 7 and March 2 — so that if a candidate doesn’t win in the first few primaries, it becomes “impossible to catch up.” He also said he was troubled by the excessive influence the media wields on the elections.

The Arizona senator predicted the Internet will soon be used for voting, and marveled at how personal computers are shaping the elections. (About half, or 100,000, of the people who were on his Internet list from his campaign remain active members, he noted.) But, by the same token, he also warned of dire unforeseen ramifications of the Internet’s use in politics.

“All of it can’t be good,” McCain said. “The Industrial Revolution was not all good.”

Kerry, New School’s president, has not endorsed anyone. Brian Krapf, Kerrey’s spokesperson, said that at one point before Kerrey’s appointment to the 9/11 Commission — which is investigating what information the Bush administration may have had on the World Trade Center attacks — Kerrey appeared for an hour with Kerry in Iowa to talk to farmers. But Kerrey won’t be endorsing in the Democratic primary, Krapf said, first of all, because he’s friends with many of the candidates and, second, because he feels that as a member of the 9/11 Commission, it would be inappropriate.


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