Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Names Circulate For Race To Fill Tom White’s Council Seat by Chris Bragg - City Hall News

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The funeral is not until Thursday, but the jockeying was well underway by the weekend.

Until Tom White is buried, at least, the potential candidates for his Council seat covering southeast Queens seat are reluctant to go on the record about their ambitions. But though they will not speak publicly, the consensus on who is on the list of potential candidates has already begun to take shape, as has the consensus that Assembly Member Vivian Cook—who is herself suffering from health problems that kept her out of Albany and had some questioning her own plans for a re-election run—will play the kingmaker in the non-partisan special election set for Nov. 2, the day of the general election.
Of the dozen names floating around, the most serious possible contenders are seen as Martha Taylor Butler, the chief of staff for Assembly Member Michelle Titus, and Anthony Andrews, the director of student activities at York College, who came in just behind Allan Jennings in the 2001 race for the seat. Andrews was extremely close with White, and is also close with Cook.
Reached by phone, Andrews declined to comment on his plans out of respect for White.
“I’ve certainly been involved in the community in the past, and certainly would like to be in the future, but for now it’s too soon to discuss anything like that,” Andrews said.
Butler did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Ruben Wills, the former chief of staff for State Sen. Shirley Huntley, who ran for the Council last year—and reportedly threw a punch during a dispute at the Board of Elections last year with Allan Jennings, who was trying to reclaim the seat he lost to White in 2005—is also seen as a potentially strong candidate.
Others who may run include Jennings, who was censured for sexually harassing staffers while on the Council, and Albert Baldeo, a perennial candidate who ran for the seat in 2005 and is now running for district leader with the county party’s backing.
Jennings and Baldeo also declined to comment out of respect for White. Wills did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Others being talked about as potential candidates include Taj Ramjkumar, a local district leader and professor at Borough of Manhattan Community College; political consultant Patrick Jenkins (though his candidacy appears less likely after his appointment Monday as deputy director of Andrew Cuomo’s campaign for governor); Elizabeth Goldsmith, the president and founder of Mothers Against Guns; and Charles Bilal, an imam at the Masjib Al Hamdul Lillah mosque in Jamaica.
One potential wildcard: if State Senate candidate Lynn Nunes loses the Sept. 14 primary against Huntley, he would technically have enough time to switch gears and mount a campaign for the Council seat. Nunes came within four votes of beating White last year, and his name recognition has only increased since then in a Senate campaign in which he has already raised more that $175,000.
Reached by phone, Nunes declined comment.
Were Huntley to lose the primary, she could also end up in the Council race.
Cook, president of the Queens County Democratic Committee, is a key powerbroker in the area who helped put Senate President Malcolm Smith, Rep. Greg Meeks, Titus and others into office.
But Cook has been sidelined with an unspecified illness and has not attended an Assembly session since Mar. 23, according to Assembly records. Still, she is running for re-election and controls some 40 percent of the district leader votes in the Council district.
The Queens Democratic Party’s decision will likely be a bellwether of whether Cook still holds the same sway over local politics as she did before her health began to decline.
Though the election is non-partisan and candidates will be able to win matching funds, the county party’s endorsement will still be a major boon, given the condensed time frame to petition onto the ballot and to fundraise.
Update 12:20 p.m.
A reader wrote in to point out that the deadline to apply for Campaign Finance Board matching funds is Tuesday, Sept. 7. That makes it unlikely that either Nunes or Huntley would be able to join the program in the case of a possible Council race, since applying for matching funds in advance of their Sept. 14 State Senate primary would be very politically difficult.