With bosses’ backroom deal, Kavanagh edges Newell for state Senate

Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh has announced he’s running for the open state Senate seat.
District Leader Paul Newell with a sphinx in the Elizabeth St. Garden, of which he is a strong supporter. Photos by Lincoln Anderson

BY COLIN MIXSON | A candidate vying to fill Lower Manhattan’s vacant state Senate seat — who had overwhelming grassroots support at a Democratic Party committee meeting on Sunday — is crying foul after party bosses maneuvered to install his establishment-backed rival this week.

Three-quarters of the members of the Manhattan Democratic County Committee voted for Paul Newell to represent the party in November’s general election to replace former state Senator Daniel Squadron.

Squadron, of course, recently surprisingly announced his resignation — after it was too late for a primary election.

But machinations by the party bosses in the two-borough district nonetheless swung the decision in favor of Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh to be the likely nominee. The outcome is, in the words of one Brooklyn Democratic Committee member, “the worst-case scenario.”

“I think this demonstrates the naked power of the machine,” David Bloomfield said. “There is nothing good to say about it. It forever marks Kavanagh as a product of the machine and a phony reformer.”

Speaking in November 2016, at a hearing on the Beth Israel Hospital downsizing plan, Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh stressed that area politicians want full information on the process.

In a statement released the day after the meeting, Newell said the race was “stolen” by the party’s bosses.

When Squadron stepped down from his seat in the 26th Senate District, he announced his resignation after an important petition-filing deadline for would-be candidates, thus robbing rank-and-file Democrats of the opportunity to choose their party’s nominee in a primary.

Instead, candidates for the cross-borough district were chosen by county committees on both sides of the East River — an arcane process that allowed party leaders Keith Wright in Manhattan and Frank Seddio in Brooklyn significant leeway in determining how a decision would be made.

In Manhattan, committee members voted by 72 percent in favor of Newell at a meeting on Sept. 17, with Kavanagh taking the remaining 28 percent after a third candidate, former City Councilmember Alan Gerson, abruptly withdrew from the race.

Seddio, however, refused to call Kings County committee members to a vote, and instead took it upon himself cast all of the Brooklyn committee’s votes for Kavanagh, pushing him over the top with 53 percent of the district’s total vote.

If the process had been organized even slightly differently, Kavanagh would have almost certainly lost, leaving many grassroots Democrats to suspect that the fix was in well before any ballots were cast, according to a member of Manhattan’s Downtown Independent Democrats club.

“Manhattan voted proportionally, Brooklyn voted as a bloc, and that’s the game they’re playing,” said Sean Sweeney, treasurer of D.I.D. “That’s the corruption.”

Sweeney added that the powers that be did not favor Newell because he is a “true progressive.”

Because more registered Democratic voters live in the Manhattan part of the district, the county committee’s votes are weighted considerably in that borough’s favor. That left Wright the opportunity to gather his members’ votes into a bloc and choose Newell as the nominee, according to the grassroots favorite.

“New York’s county leaders still have the opportunity to do the right thing,” Newell said Monday morning. “I know that Brian claims victory based on a backroom deal, but that’s not inked yet.”

That would have meant Wright snubbing some of the state’s most powerful blue-party honchos, including Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo, who — in a rare moment of agreement — both threw their weight behind Kavanagh. Others supporting Kavanagh were Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.

But because Wright chose not to, it proves that Tammany Hall levels of corruption are at work, Newell said.

“The last time a county committee vote in New York was ignored was in the 1950s under Tammany Hall,” he pointed out.

The deal was sealed Monday at a political fundraiser at Junior’s, the famed cheesecake restaurant.

Later that evening, in a statement, Newell said, “Today, two party bosses met in a back room at a cheesecake fundraiser to overturn [a] democratic outcome for our neighborhoods in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn.  Ignoring the vote of the County Committee, Manhattan County Leader and lobbyist Keith Wright met Brooklyn County Leader Frank Seddio to install Brian Kavanagh as state Senator.

“The only voters of the 26th Senate District who were allowed to weigh in on this race voted overwhelmingly for Paul Newell,” he continued. “Brooklyn County Committee members were shut out of the process, their voices suppressed by backroom deals. Had Brooklyn Committee members been allowed to vote, we would have needed to win a mere 8 percent of them to secure a district-wide majority. Our support from the New Kings Democrats, Brooklyn’s leading reform organization, alone would have delivered more than that.

“The Democratic Party should have followed the most transparent and accountable procedure possible and allowed a full vote of the County Committee in both boroughs,” Newell said. “Although Kavanagh and erstwhile reformer Daniel Squadron asked for a full vote upon his resignation, they clearly fostered and approved of the backroom deal to benefit Squadron’s friend and chosen successor. In addition to Squadron, Bosses Wright and Seddio should be ashamed for their subversion of the democratic process.”

Kavanagh could not be reached for comment before press time.