When they laid out their plans, in a political universe shaped by term limits, attorney Terry Hinds, teacher Rodrick Daley and former Community Board 17 Chair Michael Russell, thought they would be running for an open council seat in 2009.
However, the announcement last week by Mayor Michael Bloomberg that he was in favor of extending term limits to include a third full term for himself and other city officials now facing the end of the line, paired with the generally positive response to the proposition by many councilmembers, has changed the game.
Instead of running for an empty seat, they will likely face the incumbent councilmember in the 45th C.D., Kendall Stewart.
They are not alone. The seat in the 45th C.D. has generated a tremendous amount of interest among local activists, and numerous people, over the past couple of years, have expressed interest in running for the post, including Dr. Dexter McKenzie, Sam Taitt, Vaughan Toney, Abu A.Q. Abu, Jumaane Williams, Chris Hylton, Erlene King, Wellington Sharpe, Gail Reed Barnett and Ernest Emmanuel.
While some of them would likely drop out if a political ally like Stewart were in the running, others likely would not, leading political observers to expect a crowded field next year, whether Stewart runs for re-election or not.
Stewart has had a somewhat rocky tenure, with scandals over his role as a landlord (some might say slumlord) and, most recently, over the indictment of two former aides (Asquith Reid and Joycinth Anderson) on charges that they siphoned off councilmanic funding for their own use.
Nonetheless, Stewart’s hold on his office has strengthened over the years. In 2003, in a four-way primary, he eked out a victory over Taitt with a margin of about 180 votes. By 2005, in a two-way primary against Taitt, Stewart snagged over 800 votes more than his competitor.
That being said, some contend he is particularly weak politically at this juncture after his trouncing by State Senator Kevin Parker, whom he ran against in the Democratic primary just a few weeks back.
In the three-way race, which also included City Councilmember Simcha Felder, Parker snagged 49 percent of the vote. Felder picked up 37 percent and Stewart came in a distant third with just 14 percent.
Nonetheless, unless there are only one or two insurgents in a race against Stewart, he is likely to triumph, onlookers say. And, they add, with a list of potential candidates for the seat that looks more like a phone book than a ballot, a scenario whereby Stewart runs against several insurgents and triumphs is not at all unlikely.
“It’s the worst thing that could have happened to the 45th,” opined one pundit. “After Asquith and Joycinth, Kendall needs to go. But, is he going to go? The answer is no.”
While, the source added, Stewart is “obviously in trouble” in political terms, with a crowd of candidates, the insider went on, “He could win, even though voters have just rejected him. My hope is that common sense will prevail, that we don’t get more than two other candidates in the race.”
But, said the source, that will not necessarily be the case. “They see he is weak. The sharks are smelling blood and circling. That’s what’s happening right now.”
Some candidates are already making it clear that they are staying in. Hinds, a member of CB 17 who has been prepping for the race for a while, said he was “running regardless,” though he added, “It really does change everything. With Kendall in the race, it’s a completely different game.”
That said, Hinds said that many who had declared – like him – are unlikely to bow out quietly if Stewart runs again. “The problem is that people see him as vulnerable,” Hinds remarked. “They believe this is their time, this is their year. Many people, once they start, are not going to stop. And, if that many people are in the race, he’s going to win.”
Nonetheless, Hinds said that while incumbents may have a built-in advantage, those who take advantage of an extension of term limits to run for a third term “show they are willing to go against the will of the people when they are charged with representing the people.”
Russell, too, said he was staying in. The re-entrance of Stewart into the race, he noted, “Wouldn’t change my mind whatsoever. I’m still running. I think if he runs, he’ll lose. He has no base. He’s not resonating the way he did before, and what is he going to run on? Nothing.” That being said, Russell acknowledged that the more insurgent candidates that run, the better Stewart’s chances would be.
“My decision to run still stands,” said Daley, who added that he thought that at least five or six of those who had been looking at the seat would stay in, should Stewart run again.
“His running won’t affect people who are looking to change the 45th,” Daley contended. “The 45th is a very important district because you have the opportunity to change Brooklyn and to change New York City as a whole.”
Daley said he didn’t think Stewart would necessarily win, even in a crowded field, though he said that the councilmember had name recognition going for him. But, on the other hand, Daley pointed out, “He has a lot of things going on that haven’t been sorted out, and a lot of people are skeptical.”
Stewart himself is confident. He told this paper that he is considering running for an additional term if term limits are extended. “I think my chances are exceptional,” he asserted, contending that he had not displayed weakness in his recent senate run and that problems dogging him now would be in the past by the next primary.
“Those guys raised five to six times what I raised,” Stewart said of his opponents in the senate race. In addition, he contended that Parker, “Had every elected official calling and putting their two cents in to help him.”
In addition, Stewart said, “I think the issue of Asquith Reid will be out of the way. It’s one of the things they used on me, one of the gimmicks that caused people not to vote for me.”