Silver challenger says the fight is for women

BY JOSH ROGERS   |  The energy fueling the campaign of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s Republican challenger is women’s rights, and yes, energy. By the way, she see the issues as inextricably linked.

Maureen Koetz.
Maureen Koetz.

Maureen Koetz, the long-shot challenger who has worked on energy issues in and out of government for over two decades, says “electricity is my favorite thing in the whole world.

“I believe energy is the number one women’s issue from the practical side. We used to have to stay home and stoke coal. You couldn’t leave your house because you couldn’t turn the oven on and off,” Koetz, 57, said last week during an interview at Hudson Eats, close to her apartment in Gateway Plaza.

A divorced mother, Koetz said she moved back to New York in 2009 after her daughter, now 24, left for college. She settled in Battery Park City, she said, because of her love of the water.

Koetz entered the race principally in reaction to Silver’s handling of the Vito Lopez affair. Silver acknowledged two years ago that he was wrong to go outside the Assembly’s Ethics Committee to settle a sexual harassment case against Lopez, who was then an Assembly leader.

Silver’s actions led to some newspapers calling for his resignation, particularly in light of Michael Boxley, Silver’s former counsel who was fired in 2003 after he was arrested for sexual assault — the second time Boxley was accused of assault or rape.

Although the criticisms of Silver have probably hurt his standing with voters statewide, they have not appeared to have had much effect in Lower Manhattan, where many residents and community leaders praise him for delivering schools and other needed services for Downtown.

Sheldon Silver.
Sheldon Silver.

In recent years, prominent Downtown women — including the last three chairpersons of Community Board 1, Assemblymember Deborah Glick and even two former foes, Councilmember Margaret Chin and her Democratic primary opponent last year, Jenifer Rajkumar — all have supported the speaker.  

“I think they stand with him because we have a 19th century political machine still in place that he’s running, and once you are swept in under that machine there aren’t any alternatives,” Koetz said.

“Nobody else in America is allowed to cover up for a rapist, cover up for sexual harassment, consort with a convicted felon who’s got $400,000 hidden in the apartment he shares with [Silver’s] chief of staff,” Koetz added later.

The latter was a reference to William Rapfogel, the former head of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, who last year pleaded guilty to stealing $9 million. Rapfogel’s wife Judy is Silver’s chief of staff, although neither she nor the speaker have been charged with anything.

With regard to the issues related to women’s safety, Dan Levitan, a spokesperson for Silver’s campaign, in a statement, pointed to the incumbent’s record of supporting women’s equality, adding, “Under Speaker Silver, the Assembly has worked hard to strengthen its policies concerning sexual harassment…including the appointment of an independent, outside counsel chosen by the Assembly Ethics Committee to investigate all complaints.”

Levitan also sent a list of 15 accomplishments Silver, 70, has made in recent years.

“From protecting affordability at Battery Park City and Gateway Plaza to opening new high-performing public schools and relieving overcrowding, to helping restart the rebuilding of the World Trade Center and getting help for residents affected by Hurricane Sandy, no one has accomplished more for Lower Manhattan residents than Shelly Silver,” Levitan wrote.

Silver, by most accounts, has used his clout in Albany to help his district. He and members of his School Overcrowding Task Force have been able to keep city education officials’ feet to the fire, and were driving forces in getting schools like Spruce Street, P.S. 276 and Peck Slip open.

Levitan also mentioned Silver’s effort to keep the Stuyvesant High School Community Center open, and his support for youth and senior programs throughout the district, which includes, Battery Park City, FiDi, the Seaport, Chinatown and much of the Lower East Side.

Koetz doesn’t accept the premise that Silver has helped the district, but said even if true, it doesn’t balance against Silver’s actions regarding Lopez and Boxley.

Born in Queens, Koetz, has spent most of her adult life in Washington D.C. She was a lieutenant in the Navy from 1984-88, and later worked as an attorney on the U.S. Senate’s Energy Committee.

She also worked in President George W. Bush’s administration on energy issues, and also for the Nuclear Energy Institute. Most recently she has been running her own small business consulting firm.

She is open to allowing fracking in New York, saying it will lower taxes and energy costs. She thinks “the gas companies have done a pretty good job” of protecting the environment where they’ve done fracking, but there’s always room for improvement.  

“Gas company, it’s incumbent on you to figure out how to do this without unnecessarily using or abusing the air, land and water assets that are necessary for these extraction and processing systems,” she said.

The procedure is widely unpopular in liberal Lower Manhattan, and Silver backs a three-year moratorium so the issue can be studied to see if the process can be done safely.

Silver has a campaign war chest of nearly $3 million, although he is unlikely to spend much of that this year, and Koetz has less than $40,000, according to her most recent filing.

She said that in light of U.S. House majority Leader Eric Cantor’s defeat this year, she no longer considers herself a long shot. But at the end of her interview last week, she acknowledged the difficulty of a Republican winning Downtown: “Everyone rejects you for your differences.”

The election is Nov. 4.