And then there were three.
In a surprise move this past Sunday, City Councilmember Simcha Felder has declared his candidacy for the seat held by State Senator Kevin Parker, the Democrat representing the 21st Senatorial District that covers Flatbush, Kensington, and portions of Canarsie and Boro Park.
City Councilmember Kendall Stewart – who, like Felder, is term-limited and must leave his present office in 2009 — had previously declared his intention of challenging Parker, so Felder’s entrance into the race has resulted in a three-way contest in a district where the incumbent has faced a challenge since snagging his seat in a five-way race in 2002, when the district was first created.
“It’s not a problem for me,” Parker – now the Senate minority whip — asserted during a phone interview. “I’ve been through this before. Three times, people in the district have rejected the out-of-step views of people like Simcha and Kendall. The people know me. We’ve had a great partnership, and I look forward to serving them better in the Senate majority.”
Felder said he had decided to run for the senate seat, rather than for comptroller, only in the last month or so.
“I wanted to make sure I continued my first love in my job, directly helping people,” Felder explained. “That’s something I am able to do as a councilman or state senator, but not something I would be able to do as comptroller.” In addition, he said, “There are personal issues. I still have a 6-1/2 year old at home. A citywide race would take a toll on my family. I’m not prepared to do that, maybe when the kids get older.”
Felder also said that he wanted to offer residents of the district an alternative. “It’s not the first or second but the third term (for Parker),” he contended. “It’s about time that people in the district get the services and resources. We hear over and over about people being disappointed or upset about the services Mr. Parker provides.”
In contrast, Felder asserted, he has become known across his district – which includes Boro Park, Kensington, Midwood and Bensonhurst – for working hard. “Every part of the district gets what it deserves, fair representation, which is probably better than they’d gotten before. I look forward to doing that here.”
In making the run, Felder has the backing of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whom he backed for reelection in 2005 when the mayor was still a Republican. “The mayor did overwhelmingly well in the Kensington and Boro Park parts of the district, and did well in the Caribbean parts of the district, so that’s going to be helpful,” Felder noted.
However, Felder having Bloomberg’s support may reinforce Parker’s suggestion that Felder’s candidacy could be a boon to state senate Republicans, who are now scrambling to keep their majority. “It seems to me,” Parker told this paper, “that the Republicans would benefit from having someone in office who would potentially vote for Joe Bruno (as senate majority leader).”
In this way and others, Felder, an Orthodox Jew, comes into the race, in appearance at least, as a successor to Noach Dear, a former Orthodox Jewish councilmember who represented Boro Park till he was term-limited out of office, and who ran unsuccessfully in the 21st S.D. in three successive campaigns before winning a judgeship last year.
Indeed, when Parker vanquished Dear in 2004, he told supporters attending his victory party, “The person who came in second, had he won, would have become a Republican tomorrow.”
Yet, Felder said, there are distinct differences. In 2004, in a three-way race that Dear lost by 600 votes against Parker and Wellington Sharpe, a Caribbean-American candidate, “People had to make a choice between three people they were not that happy with,” he opined. “I’m hopeful they will look at this race and say, there is someone able to deliver to all the communities he represents.”
Stewart said that Felder’s entrance into the race had not “changed my plans.” While his candidacy may have been jarred by the indictment in March of his former chief-of-staff and campaign advisor, Asquith Reid, Stewart said he was still moving full-speed-ahead with his candidacy, opining that the three-way race, “May benefit me. Simcha is a friend. I have nothing negative to say about Simcha. If he wants to join in the race, fine. May the best man win.”
Parker also said that Felder’s candidacy hasn’t altered his situation. “I always have a race,” he stressed. “I always have an Orthodox Jewish opponent. Why is this any different?”
The race, said Flatbush political insider Vaughan Toney, would be “interesting” to observe. “Noach,” he recalled, “always hoped for two strong candidates splitting the black vote. With Kendall challenging Kevin, these are two giants clearly splitting the African-American and Caribbean-American vote. If Simcha can bring out Boro Park in large numbers, he can possibly clinch the Democratic nomination.”
But, Toney added, that doesn’t mean he would snag the seat. “With Barack Obama at the top of the ticket, if Kevin or Kendall were to lose the Democratic nomination but get on one of the other lines, I think he would be successful in November,” Toney posited.
Photo by Helen Klein
City Councilmember Simcha Felder.