Party foul: District leader tries to oust Dem boro boss

Manhattan Democratic Party boss Keith Wright was instrumental in handing a Downtown state Senate nomination to Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh despite the overwhelming vote of county committee members in favor of district leader Paul Newell — who fired back last week by proposing an anti-lobbying rule that could force Wright from his party leadership position.
Associated Press / Mike Groll

BY COLIN MIXSON

A spurned state Senate candidate is attacking Manhattan’s Democratic Party boss where it hurts — his wallet.

CNG file photo
District leader Paul Newel has proposed a new rule for the Manhattan Democratic Party that would bar lobbyists from top leadership positions — which could oust the current counter leader, Keith Wright.

Downtown district leader and one-time state Senate hopeful Paul Newell pushed reforms at a Manhattan Democratic county committee meeting on Sept. 26 that would force former Assemblyman Keith Wright to make a choice between losing his job as a lobbyist, or his post as the Big Apple’s Democratic Party county leader.

Newell introduced the resolution banning lobbyists from serving as high-ranking party officials just days after accusing Wright of conspiring with Kings County party boss Frank Seddio to overrule rank-and-file committee members — who voted overwhemlingly for Newell — and select state Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh as the Democratic nominee for a vacant senate seat in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, in a back-room deal Newell said has aroused Manhattan Democrats to action.

“His overruling of the county committee in the senate race galvanized a lot of people,” said Newell.

In addition to serving as the Democratic Party leader for Manhattan, Wright is listed as a part of a “seasoned team of lobbyists” for the firm Davidoff, Hutcher and Citron, a day job Newell claims poses a profound conflict of interest.

“It is an inherent conflict of interest to be a lobbyist and the leader of a political party,” the District Leader said.

As seen in this screen shot from a few days ago, the website of Davidoff, Hutcher and Citron, had long touted Wright as “part of a seasoned team of lobbyists” — as seen in this recent screeshot — but days after inquiries by this paper, the firm changed its website’s wording to “a seasoned team of government relations professionals.”

Wright, in an interview with Downtown Express, refused to go into detail about his work for DHC, but was adamant that it did not include lobbying in any form — despite the fact that the firm’s announcement of Wright’s hiring in January stated that he “will immediately take on a leadership role in the firm’s State and City lobbying efforts.”

But Wright also defended allowing lobbyists to serve in the party leadership.

“What do you do for district leaders that work for labor unions? What do you do for people who work for planned parenthood?” Wright asked. “There are affiliations with everyone and everybody.”

Wright went on to claim that Newell’s resolution was purely motivated by resentment for his political failure to achieve the Democratic nomination, which, despite Newell receiving 72-percent of the vote from Manhattan committee members, ultimately went to Kavanagh as a result of Wright’s decision to split Manhattan’s vote — with 28-percent going to the assemblyman — while Seddio wielded Brooklyn’s vote as a single bloc to support Kavanagh. Had Wright opted to similarly consolidate the Manhattan committee’s votes as a (significantly larger) bloc to support its members’ overwhelming favorite, Newell would have won the contest.

“Listen, we know what this is all about,” said Wright. “Paul’s not a bad guy, he’s upset.”

The Manhattan Party boss denied any wrongdoing on his part in the process that denied Newell the nomination, saying he was forced into that position “as a matter of state law,” while also saying that he believed Kavanagh was really the best man for the job.

“What really went into my decision making was that I had served with Mr. Kavanagh for 11 years,” said the former 12-term assemblyman. “Mr. Kavanagh has proven himself a great reformer in many ways, upholding the ideals of our country.”

The prospect of axing Wright as Manhattan’s Democratic boss incited a nearly hour-long debate at City College’s Marian Anderson Theater in Harlem, where opposition from the party leader’s supporters was enough to sway members to table the vote and send the measure to the county’s Rules Committee, which can be expected to submit a report on Newell’s resolution sometime in the next three months.

Even for members who support Newell’s resolution in spirit, a period of contemplation for the weighty measure was accepted with a sigh of relief, especially in the face of strong opposition from Democrats loyal to Wright, according to fellow Downtown district deader Dennis Gault.

“I thought the solution we came up with was excellent,” Gault said. “[The resolution] is completely reasonable, my concern is all the emotions of the people who thought it was a terrible idea.”

Going forward, Wright is expected to exert his considerable influence as party boss on Manhattan’s district leaders, who will be tasked with forming a new Rules Committee and produce a report that is expected to determine fate the resolution, according to Newell.

“If anybody’s stacking it, it would be the county leader,” said Newell. “Hopefully, we can find compromise and form a committee that’s not stacked.”

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