Volume 22, Number 28 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | November 20 - 26, 2009
After Gerson feud, Downtown club is splitting up
By Josh Rogers
Councilmember Alan Gerson may soon share something in common with one of his biggest political heroes, Ed Koch. Gerson, like Koch, has inspired a Downtown political club faction to splinter.
Members and critics of Downtown Independent Democrats are forming a new, as-yet-unnamed club and their first meeting will be Nov. 30. Bill Love, one of the new group’s leaders, said he expects to have at least two dozen members to start, many of whom are D.I.D. members upset over the club’s “contentious endorsement meeting” last June.
The large, loud and tense meeting even included an unsubstantiated assault accusation. When the dust settled, the club endorsed Pete Gleason, and Gerson was weakened. The club’s influence on the election is disputed, but regardless, Gerson ended up losing his reelection bid and Democrat Margaret Chin will take his seat in January.
Aside from Gerson, the other center of the dispute is the years-long clash between D.I.D. president Sean Sweeney and Democratic District Leader David Reck, one of the new club’s driving forces. The pair were once allies, but their disagreements have cut across Community Board 2, where both are members, and D.I.D., where last year Sweeney survived a challenge to his leadership supported by Reck.
“This is the irony — I made David Reck district leader,” Sweeney said. “No good deed goes unpunished.” By his account, which was not disputed or confirmed by Reck, he got Reck named district leader when the unpaid party position became vacant.
Reck refused to answer most questions regarding his club, D.I.D. and Sweeney, but in a brief interview he repeatedly said “we’re starting a club that will represent the community.”
Sweeney said the new club’s shelf life will be about two years, when he predicts that Reck and another probable charter member, District Leader Linda Belfer, will lose their reelection bids. Sweeney said he’d lay 10:1 odds on both losing.
Belfer and Sweeney also had disputes in this last election, but she was still surprised that Sweeney was already announcing a campaign against her.
“It’s a threat, it’s nasty and there’s no reason to do it,” she said. “To say that two years in advance — that’s the stupidest thing in the world.”
She said she’s planning to join the new club but won’t make a final decision until it forms. She has decided to leave D.I.D., though. “I don’t like all of the infighting,” she said.
District leaders help select judicial candidates but they have limited powers beyond that. They are important in club politics since their membership gives a club automatic standing in the Democratic Party.
Sweeney thinks the defections will “strengthen” D.I.D. because they will end the last two years of acrimony.
Julie Nadel, a Sweeney ally and past D.I.D. president, is not so sure.
“It doesn’t help,” said Nadel. “It does dilute it somewhat.”
She thinks her club could still be strong since Lower Manhattan has a growing population and D.I.D. covers an unusually large area in parts of two Assembly districts. Four district leaders in a club is unheard of Nadel added, and D.I.D. will still have two without Reck and Belfer.
Nadel has often been on opposite sides of Reck, but nevertheless, she thinks Sweeney is wrong about the reelection chances of Reck at least, since he is an effective campaign volunteer.
“Reck goes out and does something,” Nadel said. “Beating him would be difficult. He actually gets out and works.”
Love said it is important, but not crucial that Reck and Belfer remain as district leaders.
“As long as David and Linda stay active and do the work that they’ve been doing, we’ll be fine,” he said.
He hopes the new club is “more collegial,” and he thinks there’s room for more membership in the C.B. 1 neighborhoods south of Canal St. as well as the Village and Lower East Side in C.B. 2 and 3. He said the club name will be one topic discussed at the first meeting and he thinks it will include “Lower Manhattan.”
A few people interviewed for this article brought up the creation of the Village Reform Democratic Club in 1983, a year after members were upset that Village Independent Democrats had backed Mario Cuomo for governor over Mayor Koch, a longtime V.I.D. member.
Adam Silvera, a Sweeney ally and D.I.D. leader, said the comparison falls short in an important way.
“Ed Koch was still a powerful sitting mayor, and Alan Gerson is a lame-duck city councilmember with growing campaign debt,” Silvera said. As for the new club, he said, “I do wish them luck — just not too much luck.”
Gerson did not return calls for this article and does not appear to have taken an active role in starting the new club.
Koch, who supported Gerson in this and previous campaigns, was reluctant to delve back into Downtown political wars, but did write in an email to Downtown Express:
“I have not kept up with the club politics either at VRDC or VID and prefer not to comment other than to... wish Alan Gerson all success.”