Squadron beats Connor while Silver holds seat

By Josh Rogers, Julie Shapiro and Sisi Wei

If Martin Connor ever kissed a baby named Daniel Squadron on the campaign trail it would have been when he had already been in the State Senate for two years. On Tuesday night, 28-year-old Squadron ended Connor’s 30-year run in the Senate with a 54-to-46 percent victory in the Democratic primary.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, facing his first primary in 22 years, cruised to victory with 68 percent of the vote against two poorly-funded opponents in the Democratic primary. The quiet, confident crowd at the Silver victory party at United Federation of Teachers headquarters feasted on sushi and hot pastrami and did little more than smile and shake hands.

In stark contrast, a beaming Squadron hugged enthusiastic supporters as he made the rounds at his victory party at Grand Harmony restaurant in Chinatown. He achieved a rarity in Albany politics — defeating an incumbent.

“We have really done what we set out to do and that is to show the city and the state that state government can matter and that you can get regular people excited about the possibility and potential for state government,” he told the crowd.

He campaigned on a platform of changing Albany with campaign finance reform and nonpartisan commissions to draw legislative district lines to end the practice of gerrymandering. He supports congestion pricing, renewing mayoral control of schools with more parental control, and giving community boards the power to deny liquor licenses in neighborhoods with a high density of residents and bars. Like Connor, he supports same sex marriage.

Early on in an unusually long victory speech listing dozens of supporters, Squadron asked the crowd “to take a moment to honor Marty Connor’s 30 years of service to New York State,” and received a hearty round of applause.

But Connor, 63, was not ready to bury the hatchet after a bare-knuckled campaign from both sides. He did not congratulate Squadron in his concession speech or try to telephone his opponent.

“If I were going to call anybody I’d call Chuck Schumer,” Connor told Downtown Express. In April, U.S. Sen. Schumer endorsed Squadron, a former Schumer aide who co-wrote a book with the senator. A 62-year-old Battery Park City woman said she voted for Newell and Squadron because their opponents had been in office too long, but she was particularly reassured about Squadron because he had Schumer’s stamp of approval.

Connor, a lifelong Democrat, said he’s not planning to support Squadron in his general election campaign against Republican John Chromczak, a Financial District resident.

“It’s not likely,” Connor said. “I don’t think he needs my support.”

The 25th Senate District is overwhelmingly Democratic and covers all of Manhattan south of Canal St., Soho, Chinatown, part of the Village and much of Brownstone Brooklyn.

Squadron poll watchers reported substantial margins of victory in Battery Park City, Tribeca, Soho, the Village and a slight edge in Brooklyn Heights. Connor reportedly scored big in Williamsburg — winning about 65 percent of the vote — but despite the heavy turnout in the neighborhood, it was not enough to overcome the losses in other parts of the district. Squadron said he won 65 percent of the vote in Brooklyn, which is about one third of the district.

When Connor was first elected in 1978, most of his district was in Brooklyn, but in 2002, he lost much of Brooklyn and picked up neighborhoods on Downtown’s West Side. Interviews with a small, unscientific sample of voters from the Lower East Side, Tribeca and Battery Park City indicated overwhelming support for Squadron and Silver. Few voters had much positive or negative to say about Connor, first elected to the Senate in a special election.

“He hasn’t done much,” said Elise Brown, 47, who voted at P.S. 20 on the Lower East Side. “He’s sort of a do-nothing. Squadron seems to be a real comer.”

Several Squadron voters said they had met him personally and were impressed with his energy.

As for the Assembly race, Brown picked Silver — “But I held my nose doing it,” she said. She liked Paul Newell and said he was “promising and up-and-coming,” but she thought Silver deserved another chance now that former Republican Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno was gone.

Similarly, a 70-year-old Battery Park City resident who declined to give his name, said he was “tempted” to vote for Newell, but went with Silver because he was afraid to lose the clout Silver has in Albany.

But others were more enthusiastic in their support for Silver, with a few Gateway Plaza tenants saying they were thankful Silver has used his leverage to extend rent protections in the B.P.C. complex.

Brandy Harris, 33, a Battery Park City resident, said “I liked that he worked hard for the community.” She voted with her 13-year-old daughter and said Silver’s push to get new schools built was the “main factor” that prompted her to vote for him.

She also voted for Connor. She said she did not know much about either Senate candidate but went with Connor for his experience.

Citywide, there were not many close races and the eyes of many political observers focused on Lower Manhattan, which had two noteworthy primaries — one with the possibility that one of Albany’s most powerful men would be defeated and the other with a vulnerable incumbent.

Squadron was most in effusive in his gratitude to Schumer, whom he said taught him everything he knew about politics, Mayor Bloomberg (“a great mayor” who simply told him to fight hard for the city) and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, who at “great personal risk,” was the only Albany legislator to endorse Squadron over the incumbent.

In his victory speech, Silver said, “This campaign was about real people with real needs, not about tabloid headlines, not about mayors and governors —” he said before smiling at Gov. David Paterson standing behind him. “It was about results.”

He mentioned community leaders throughout the district he worked with like Eric Greenleaf, a P.S. 234 parent working on relieving the school overcrowding problems.

Both of Silver’s opponents, Luke Henry and Newell, told Downtown Express they would support the speaker in the general election against Republican Daniel Maio. Newell said he thought Silver would be better for having faced a Democratic challenge.

“There’s no question the district will have a more responsive Assemblyman and the state will see a more responsive speaker,” Newell said.

The 64th Assembly district includes Battery Park City, Chinatown, the Financial District, the Seaport and much of the Lower East Side.

Silver collected 6,743 votes to Newell’s 2,301 (23 percent) and Henry’s 879 (9 percent). Squadron got 12,912 votes to Connor’s 10,980. The tallies are still considered unofficial and will likely take a week to be certified.

According to the Squadron watchers, he won the election districts in the south part of B.P.C. 329 to 133, Soho voters at St. Anthony’s Church by 152 to 61, part of Tribeca by better than a 2:1 margin and the South Village or Noho by about 2:1.

For his part, Connor seemed calm as he neared the end of his three-decade career in the Senate. He noted he had won 19 of 20 elections.

“If I were a baseball player I’d be signing for a big bonus,” he said.

He said he maintained strong support from longtime residents but thought newer, wealthier constituents went with Squadron.

“I didn’t get the same reception among the gentry who moved in 3 or 4 years ago,” Connor said in his concession speech.

“I’m going to go get a life,” he added. “Thank you all. Put all of the cameras away, I’m going to have a drink.”