Steve Behar, an attorney mounting a race in Queens for the seat of retiring Assembly Member Ann-Margaret Carrozza, claims that two pro-charter school bundlers have enough faith in his candidacy to have offered to raise him up to $200,000 in exchange for him changing his position on charter schools to support their expansion.
Many in what was a wide field of Democrats cleared out of the race at the end of last month, after Ed Braunstein, a staffer for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, received the support of the Queens County Democratic organization. Among those who did not is Behar, who lost a primary battle for the Council seat eventually won by Dan Halloran, and has remained in the race.
Braunstein is likely to be backed by the generally charter-cool teachers unions, given that he has the support of Silver, an ally of the unions. But in a letter written to the website Queens Teacher, Behar claimed that he was being courted to come out in favor of the charters.
“In the last few weeks two separate ‘political fundraisers’ promised to raise between $100K and $200K for my campaign if I changed my position to favor charter schools,” Behar wrote. “Since I’m running against a well-funded inexperienced and unqualified candidate (Ed Braunstein) who works for the Albany leadership and is in the pocket of the lobbyists and the special interests, that money would have really helped my campaign. However, keeping to my core beliefs, I refused to change my position and thus refused the money.”
In an interview, Behar said he turned the bundlers down on principle. He declined, however, to give the names of the two bundlers, citing concerns about scaring away future potential fundraisers and donors to his campaign.
All Behar would say is that one of the people he claims was involved approached him three weeks ago at the New York State Young Democrats convention, and the other approached him at a political event a week ago. When asked which event, though, Behar said he could not recall.
When told about the letter, Braunstein’s campaign blasted Behar for not disclosing who the bundlers were, and said he should report such incidents to the police, if they in fact occurred.
“If you’re running for a position of trust, you make a promise to uphold the law. If anyone ever approached Ed Braunstein and offered him something like that, he would pick up the phone and report that individual. They ought to be prosecuted and locked up,” said campaign spokesman Michael McKeon. “We need integrity in Albany, not someone who just wants to put out a press release.”
Behar fired back, pointing out that Braunstein’s uncle, Brian Meara, is a lobbyist well-known for his connections to Silver and Assembly Democrats.
Behar said it was absurd to expect that he report the bundlers to the authorities.
“I realize this kid just got out of law school, but if that’s true, then his uncle should be going to jail because he’s a lobbyist,” Behar said. “Isn’t that what lobbyists do: offer you support so you change your position?”
Also running in the Democratic primary are former Assembly Member John Duane and Whitestone lawyer Elio Forcina. Queens Republican Party executive vice president Vince Tabone and Rob Speranza are running in the Republican primary.The $200,000 supposedly in play here would have increased the size of Behar's war many times over: according to Behar’s ActBlue fundraising page, he has, as of Thursday night, raised online only $1,015 from 13 supporters for the race. Behar, though, cautioned that he had raised far more than that in personal checks, though he declined to cite a figure before he makes a campaign finance disclosure in July.