Succeeding Squadron: Four contenders vie for Democratic nod for Downtown’s Senate seat

The Villager file photos
(Left to right) Former Councilman Alan Gerson, Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, and District Leader Paul Newell are among the four contenders maneuvering for the backroom support of the Deomocratic Party county committees to secure the party’s ballot line in the November election to replace retired state Sen. Daniel Squardon, who announced his surprise resignation after the deadline to hold a primary. A photo of Diego Segalini was not available by press time.

BY COLIN MIXSON

It’s less of an election guide and more of a “selection” guide.

The four candidates vying to replace former state Sen. Daniel Squadron as the Democratic Party’s standard-bearer on the November ballot won’t be facing the voters in a primary, but potential constituents should still probably know who they are.

Because Squadron announced his surprise resignation after the filing deadline for candidate petitions, the Democratic contender for his seat — and almost certainly Squadron’s successor — will be chosen by members of the party’s county committees in Manhattan and Brooklyn, the two boroughs the 26th Senate District straddles. The campaign — or what there is of it — for the party’s ballot line will play out not on the hustings but in the political clubs of party activists and back rooms of the county committee meetings. Good relationships with party bosses will count more than any appeal to actual voters.

The decision is expected later this month, after the Sept. 12 primary gives voters a voice in most other races. Provided that Brooklyn Democratic boss Frank Seddio doesn’t succeed in installing former state Sen. Martin Conner as a placeholder, the active contenders, in alphabetical order, are:

Alan Gerson — A lifelong resident of Lower Manhattan, and Columbia Law School graduate, Gerson is no stranger to elected office. He served as Downtown’s City Council representative from 2002 until Margaret Chin unseated him in 2009 amid an ill-fated reelection campaign which saw Gerson fall with swine flu, and his campaign manager get busted for child pornography, and the untimely deaths of his campaign treasurer, his special counsel, and his campaign secretary — who also happened to be his mother. Filling Squadron’s seat would quite the political comeback for Gerson, who’s calling for greater local representation at the Battery Park City Authority, preserving the Gateway residential complex’s rent-stabilization benefits and creating new infrastructure standards for large-scale developments.

Brian Kavanagh — Assemblyman Kavanagh declared his candidacy just a few hours after Squadron announced his resignation, suggesting he got an early heads up from the former senator, and thus his support as a successor. As an 11-year veteran representing neighborhoods including the Lower East Side, Gramercy, Union Square, and Stuyvesant Town in the Assembly, Kavanagh is easily the most politically experienced candidate vying for the seat, but it’s unclear whether his strong ties to nearby neighborhoods will be enough to the Downtown seat. A progressive member of the Democrat-controlled Assembly, Kavanagh’s legislative efforts have focused on strengthening tenant rights, pushing green energy projects, and promoting equality for the LGBT community.

Paul Newell — The Downtown district leader made his name as the plucky underdog challenging Sheldon Silver for his Assembly seat 2008 — long before the disgraced former Speaker’s downfall. Newell lost to the once-powerful lawmaker, but he leveraged his political gains during the race to win the job of district leader in 2009. Since then he’s been active advocating for tenants’ rights and other local causes — including pushing for a full-service hospital to be built at St. Vincent’s Hospital, which closed in 2010. He made another unsuccessful bid for the Assembly last year in a race that went to Yuh-Line Niou, but Squadron’s resignation has given Newell another chance to join the state legislature, and his strong ties to local party activists — especially the Downtown Independent Democrats — should serve him well when the council committee convenes later this month.

Diego Segalini — A Lower East Side resident who joined the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council in 2007, Segalini now serves as the group’s executive vice president. He is also a public member of Community Board 3, which represents the East Village, Chinatown, and Alphabet City. Beyond that, Segalini is a newcomer to the political stage, and faces an uphill battle against the more experienced, and better connected contenders.

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