Rajkumar rages against ‘clubhouse gang’ after Newell gets nod from Downtown Independent Democrats

Jenifer Rajkumar
Jenifer Rajkumar


Jenifer Rajkumar, a Democratic district leader and six-year member of Downtown Independent Democrats, heaped scorn on the venerable political club after it voted to endorse her club rival in the race to fill the state Assembly seat left vacant by convicted felon Sheldon Silver. Rajkumar said the club “does not represent the greater community” and likened it to the notorious triumvirate in Albany that ruled New York State with an iron fist.

“A small group cast a vote that doesn’t reflect the true sentiments or diversity of our community,” Rajkumar said of the DID vote to endorse her co-district leader, Paul Newell, for Assembly. “I suppose it was to be expected, since there’s really no difference between ‘three men in a room’ and a gang in a clubhouse.”

The 45-year-old political club was faced with making the unenviable decision of choosing to endorse Newell or Rajkumar, both running for Assembly in the 65th District and both veteran members of DID, at its meeting Wednesday.

Not only have Newell and Rajkumar paid dues to the political club for many years, but DID has a long history of supporting both Newell and Rajkumar in their elections, including Newell’s bid for district leader in 2009 and Rajkumar’s run against then-District Leader Linda Belfer in 2011, plus Rajkumar’s unsuccessful challenge to Councilmember Margaret Chin in the 2013 primary election.

More than that, many DID members refer to both Newell and Rajkumar as a friend, underscoring the difficulty of the decision to endorse one candidate over the other.

“Everybody’s been friends with Paul and Jennifer for over a decade, so it was a very difficult call for everybody,” said DID member Tom Goodkind.

Some members were so upset with the prospect of choosing between Rajkumar and Newell that there was an effort to include “Captain’s Choice” on the DID ballot, an option allowing members to endorse all candidates in a given race — which is more positive than voting “No Endorsement.”

Paul Newell
Paul Newell

DID President Jeanne Wilcke went so far as to put Captain’s Choice on the ballots that were handed out at the beginning of Wednesday’s meeting. However, the members who were present voted overwhelmingly to strike it off, with the general sentiment being that Captain’s Choice would dilute the group’s influence in the coming election, which is not limited to Newell and Rajkumar, but has a whopping six other candidates, including incumbent Alice Cancel, who prevailed in the April special election to replace Silver after a jury found him guilty on corruption charges.

“People were so concerned and would say, ‘Can’t we elect both?’ that the Captain’s Choice thing was floated,” Wilcke said. “But people understood that we really had to endorse a candidate. We’re here to give guidance to people who look to our endorsements.”

But Rajkumar took issue with the decision to nix Captain’s Choice, which — in light of the club’s decision to go for Newell — could have left her campaign in a far better position come November.

“The removal of Captain’s Choice from the internal club ballot — which would have offered an opportunity for members to support their preferred candidate — smacks of a fix being in,” she said.

However, Wilcke took issue with that statement, saying the decision to remove Captain’s Choice from the ballot was made in as open and democratic a way as possible, with a vote among members that followed a lengthy discussion on the nature of Captain’s Choice and its merits.

“We actually spoke at length — about to the point where people’s eyes were glazing over — to make sure we got it right,” Wilcke said. “So I don’t think that’s a fair comment.”

Former club president Sean Sweeney said that Rajkumar apparently knew her chances of beating Newell for DID’s endorsement were slim, since she called Sweeney requesting that Captain’s Choice be added to the ballot as a means of hedging her bet.

“She knew she was losing,” Sweeney said. “It was a very shrewd political move.”

Regardless, it would seem that Rajkumar is cutting off her nose to spite her face — as well as spite the club — in hurling accusations at her longtime friends and supporters, according to Goodkind.

“For her to scorn the club certainly is bridge burning,” he said.

But, despite her harsh words, there doesn’t seem to be any hard feelings on the part of DID’s leadership, which looks forward to supporting her in future endeavors — just as long as she’s not running against Newell.

“I consider Jenifer like a daughter and I told her that, and Paul like a son,” Sweeney said. “She’s a little annoyed, I understand, it’s natural. She put a lot of time and effort into this campaign. And Paul and Jenifer were the best of friends. We all were. We still are.”