When Gov. David Paterson reversed course last summer and decided to call a special election to replace now-jailed Assembly Member Anthony Seminerio, three candidates who wanted to run in a Democratic primary for the seat were forced out of the race.
The special election instead allowed the Queens Democratic Party to get its favored candidate for the seat, Mike Miller, on the Democratic line and avoid a contested primary. Miller went on to easily win a special election victory in the southwest Queens district over a Republican opponent.
Now, two of the Democratic candidates who could not run last year are teaming up to try ousting Miller in the fall. And Miller is not the only person who has raised their ire: they claim that the circumstances surrounding the special election were all part of a political deal to help Council Member Elizabeth Crowley.
Nick Comaianni, president of Community Education Council District 24, will announce his primary challenge against Miller at a meeting of the newly-formed Southwest Queens Democratic Club on May 6, he said.
Comaianni said he would draw on support of the parents he has come to know as the local school board president, as well as the sizable Indian and Latino communities who he says felt disenfranchised by the special election maneuvering last year.
“They don’t like it when a few people out of 125,000 get to determine who represents them in Albany,” Comaianni said.
In January, Comaianni founded the Southwest Queens Democratic Club with Farouk Samaroo, a young Afghan war veteran who, like Comaianni, wanted to run to replace Seminerio. The club had some 45 people at their first meeting, a number they attributed to anger over the special election.
In fact, Samaroo said the club will try to run a candidate not only for Assembly this year, but for every district leader, state committee, judicial delegate and county committee seat in the 38th Assembly district, which covers Glendale, Ozone Park, Richmond Hill, Ridgewood and Woodhaven
Samaroo asserted that the minority populations who make up the majority of the primary electorate were left behind last year by a deal cut between the Queens Democratic Party and a small group of mostly white, conservative Democrats in Glendale, who wanted Miller to replace Seminerio.
In exchange, according to Samaroo, these conservative Democrats promised to support Council Member Elizabeth Crowley—who was running for re-election against Republican Tom Ognibene—and who is the cousin of Queens Democratic Party chair Joe Crowley.
“The Hispanic and Indian populations got sacrificed for a little political deal for Liz Crowley,” Samaroo said. “Frankly, we’re a little upset about it.”
A source close to the Miller’s campaign last year echoed the idea that the special election had been called in order to help Elizabeth Crowley.
But Miller said that the accusations were false and part of a personal vendetta Comaianni has against Crowley.
“Nick has a problem with Elizabeth Crowley and every waking moment seems to think Elizabeth is doing things against him,” Miller said.
Miller said that the leadership of the South Asian community was, in fact, backing him and that he had brought on a part-time staffer to serve as an envoy to the Hispanic community.
He also said that if Samaroo and Comaianni had truly wanted to run in the special election, they could have petitioned onto the ballot and run as independents.
“The only people who were upset about the special election were Mr. Comaianni and Mr. Samaroo,” he said.
Elizabeth Crowley and Miller recently formed their own club, the 38th Assembly Regular Democratic Club, in order to mobilize a base of grassroots support.
If Albert Baldeo, another candidate knocked out by the special election last year also decides to run against Miller, it could cut into Comaianni’s support. Samaroo, however, said he had privately gotten Baldeo’s assurance several weeks ago that he would not run. Samaroo said he expected Baldeo to instead run for a district leader spot.
Reached for comment, Baldeo said he was not sure if he would run for the Assembly district, and declined to elaborate on his thinking.
If Miller makes it through the primary, he will also face a general election challenge. Republicans are running Donna Caltabiano, a party state committee member and senior center director, for the seat. Caltabiano lost the 2009 special election to Miller by 30 points.
Comaianni acknowledged that beating Miller now would be more difficult than last year, when Miller was not an incumbent.
But at the least, voters will a choice this year, he said.
“What I’m looking for is a fair election,” Comaianni said. “You’re going to have to earn it this time.”