Party Leaders Override Local Dems, Select Kavanagh for Squadron's Seat

Paul Newell, left, and Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh address a meeting of the Manhattan County Democratic Committee on Sunday before a non-binding vote is taken. Newell received three-quarters of that vote but Kavanagh was named the winner in the much-maligned process. Photos: April Koral/Tribeca Trib

Sep. 18, 2017

In the race to fill the vacancy left by state Sen. Daniel Squadron, who abruptly quit his post last month, Manhattan Democratic Committee members on Sunday overwhelmingly threw their support behind Lower Manhattan activist and district leader Paul Newell.

But it was his opponent, Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, who is getting the party’s nod.

Squadron’s 26th Senate District includes Lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn, and committee members from his Manhattan district gathered for a non-binding vote on their choice to serve out Squadron’s fifth two-year term. Newell, who had been endorsed by a number of political clubs in the district, garnered 72 percent of the vote. But Brooklyn’s party leader, Frank Seddio, did not convene his district Democrats and unilaterally threw the entire Brooklyn bloc of votes behind Kavanagh. (The Brooklyn vote accounts for 35 percent of the total tabulation; Manhattan’s vote is worth 65 percent.) That gave Kavanagh, an 11-year East Side Assemblyman, a narrow 53 percent win and, with no serious Republican opposition, a certain victory on Nov. 7. (Former City Councilman Alan Gerson dropped out of the running.)

“They crafted the only tortured, clearly unethical, clearly corrupt system and that was [Manhattan Committee Chair] Keith Wright and Frank Seddio and Daniel Squadron crafting it,” Newell said in a telephone interview on Monday.

Newell blasted Squadron, claiming the former senator was doing “everything he could to encourage a backroom deal to replace him. He had a plan. He was with Kavanagh from the beginning.” Squadron had resigned too late for candidates to petition to be on the ballot in the September primary, thereby giving party leaders the power to name his successor.

“In reality, one boss in Brooklyn was able to speak for an entire process,” Newell said.

Unfortunately, it was not possible for the seat to be filled any other way,Squadron said in a telephone interview with the Trib Tuesday afternoon. “And the fundamental problem is that state law calls for this filling of vacancies in almost all instances. And thats true for this year and all prior years.

“I told my constituents that I was leaving as soon as I could after I made the decision, the former senator added.

For his part, Kavanagh defended the results. “The gold standard for a party choosing its nominee is a primary,” the Assemblyman told The LoDown on Sunday. “Unfortunately, in this case, there was not sufficient time to do a primary…  Every party has its rules. The Democratic Party has rules on the books and they followed those rules. Today we have the result and I’m very proud to say I’m the Democratic nominee.”

Seddio’s spokesman, Bob Liff, said the Brooklyn leader “works under the rules that exist. And Kavanagh was clearly the choice of his colleagues and others he consulted with,” Gothamist reported.

With Kavanagh declared the winner, many elected officials, from Mayor de Blasio on down, endorsed the Assemblyman. That included Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, who represents Lower Manhattan. But in a statement on Monday she criticized a system that many see as undemocratic:It is painstakingly obvious that we need real reform to ensure voters have more of a voice to fill legislative seats. I plan to work on legislation in the Assembly to bring real democracy to the forefront of special elections and fix this broken system.”

April Koral contributed reporting