Photo Credit: Jewish Press

A Primary Primer

Next month primaries will be held across New York for positions in the State Senate and Assembly and the seat of the governor (Andrew Cuomo vs. Cynthia Nixon), lieutenant governor (Kathy Hochul vs. Jumanne Williams), and attorney general (Zephyr Teachout, Sean Patrick Maloney, Leticia James, and Leccia Eve all vying for the seat left vacant when Eric Schneiderman resigned). Barbara Underwood, who is Jewish, took over earlier this year as the state’s lame duck legal eagle.

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The Gubernatorial Primary

Political neophyte Cynthia Nixon continues to rack up endorsements from independent Democratic groups across the state and a few nods of support from mainstream Democrats, Governor Andrew Cuomo, meanwhile, is quietly seeking support from committee members and district leaders of county committees.

On Wednesday, May 2, he held a meeting at Pizza D’Amore in the tony Mill Basin neighborhood of Brooklyn, and if the criticism from some of the 30 people in attendance is any indication, Cuomo should worry about achieving a decisive victory next month.

“He was looking for our support,” Lori Maslow, district leader for the 41st Assembly District and a Marine Park resident, told The Jewish Press. “He spoke about all the things he accomplished and he wanted to hear from the district leaders.”

Only seven people spoke at the private meeting, reported Maslow, who suffers from Mitochondria, a muscular skeletal disease. Maslow says she told Cuomo that elevators have not been installed in some renovated subway stations. Cuomo responded by telling Maslow stations would have to be completely reconfigured to accommodate elevators, costing tens of millions of dollars. Maslow countered by telling the chief executive that elevators are a necessity, not a convenience.

Last year Disability Rights Advocates filed two class action lawsuits against the New York City Transit Authority and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The advocacy group maintains the transit agencies fail to maintain the cleanliness and operation of the already limited number of stations’ elevators.

Maslow says she is undecided about whether or not to vote for Cuomo in the primary. “People will say they are voting for Cuomo but when they go to fill out their ballot, they will choose Cynthia Nixon,” she predicted.

Cuomo must have been reading the tea leaves because he has agreed to debate his primary opponent at Hofstra University on Wednesday, August 29.

 

Brooklyn Judicial Primary on Tap

Another primary contest next month involves a race for civil court judge in Brooklyn where four candidates (two incumbents and two challengers) are running to fill two positions. Loren Baily-Schiffman, 67, is seeking her third 10-year term to civil court. Baily-Schiffman, who appears on the ballot as Loren Baily, is currently filling in as an acting Supreme Court judge and wants to continue in that post beyond the mandatory retirement age of 70.

This is where New York’s arcane court system and election law gets a bit complicated. A week after she runs for reelection to civil court, Baily-Schiffman plans to seek one of three open seats on the state Supreme Court bench during a judicial convention where delegates, chosen by Democratic Party leaders, nominate candidates for the higher court for the general election. A Democratic nomination to the Supreme Court in Brooklyn is tantamount to victory in November because of the party registration advantage in the borough. Baily-Schiffman says there are about a dozen people seeking a spot on the Supreme Court, which pays $208,000 a year. Civil court judges earn $175,000 a year.

“I’m running for reelection to Civil Court and then I’m running for Supreme Court,” Baily-Schiffman told The Jewish Press. “The county organization can fill my Civil Court slot. That’s called a flip seat.”

There’s one other wrinkle in this process. Baily-Schiffman only has three years before reaching mandatory retirement age, but if she sits on the Supreme Court, she can petition the Office of Court Administration up to three times for a two-year extension while someone else gets appointed by district leaders to the seat she retires from. That would mean another judge serving on the Supreme Court for 10 years from Brooklyn without an election.

Baily-Schiffman has her detractors. She has been called a “liberal judge” who does not always side with law enforcement officials. But Baily-Schiffman says, “I am extremely fair. I treat everyone in my courtroom the same no matter who they are. Everyone gets a fair hearing in my courtroom. It’s important that everybody’s rights be respected and everybody’s individual person be respected. That’s what happens in my courtroom, and it has for 20 years.”

Her husband, Harry, is a congregant at the Young Israel of Flatbush, and while Baily-Schiffman does not belong to a synagogue, she says she has much support in the Orthodox Jewish community. Widowed once and divorced once, the Prospect Park South resident is on her third marriage. She has one child, four stepsons, and 15 grandchildren.

She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the Ohio-based private liberal arts Oberlin College and was admitted to the New York state Bar in 1978 after attending New York Law School.

The only other Jewish candidate seeking the Civil Court position is Saul Cohen, 37, of Midwood and a congregant of Bnei Shelomo v’Yaffa, a Syrian-Sephardic congregation in the Sheepshead Bay section of Brooklyn. Cohen is married and has three children. He is an alumnus of Rutgers University, graduating with an Administration of Justice degree. He received his law degree from Seton Hall University Law School.

Cohen is an insurgent candidate, not backed by Brooklyn’s party leaders. We’ll see if voters go to the polls next month choosing party-backed candidates or insurgents who call themselves independent Democrats.

 

New York State Senate Primaries

All but two of the 19 primary face-offs for the State Senate will be battles as Democrats try to put in place “proper Democrats” and gain control of the upper house. What is a proper Democrat? Essentially a “progressive Democrat.” All eight members of the former Independent Democratic Coalition have primary opponents with the moniker, “A True Democrat,” since the I.D.C. members once denied the Democrats control of the chamber.

Another primary involves the lone Democrat who caucuses with the Republicans, Simcha Felder (D – Midwood). Felder says he caucuses with the Republicans because he can gain more assistance for his constituents. Last election, Felder ran with Democratic, Republican, and Conservative party backing. Blake Morris is running against Felder aiming to appeal to a broader base of voters in the culturally-diverse district and gain support from constituents other than ultra-Orthodox Jews. Morris says he is a secular Jew. Felder is an Orthodox Jew.

In Rockland County, incumbent Senator David Carlucci will try to fend off Julie Goldberg, and, in the Bronx, incumbent Senator Jeff Klein will square off against Lew Kaminiski. Alessandra Biaggi, the granddaughter of disgraced former Congressman Mario Biaggi, is also vying to oust Klein. These are the only primaries involving Jewish candidates.

The primary is being held on Thursday, September 13, instead of the traditional Tuesday, due to a conflict with Rosh Hashanah and to avoid the anniversary of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks, which is on Tuesday, September 11. On the docket for the Thursday primary are two races in which Democrats are trying to flip open seats held by Republicans, 11 races in which Democrat candidates are trying to unseat incumbent Democrats, one race in which the Republicans are filling an open seat held by the GOP, one race in which a Republican is trying to unseat an incumbent Democrat, and four races in which Democrats are trying to unseat incumbent GOP Senators, including Andrew Gounardes and Ross Barkan, who is Jewish. Barkan and Gounardes are trying to unseat incumbent Senator Martin Golden who is a strong ally for the observant Jewish community.

 

New York State Assembly Primaries

For the state Assembly, there are 10 primaries on tap. Four primaries are being held to fill open seats left vacant by three Democrats and one Republican. In one race, a Republican is trying to unseat an incumbent Democrat who is Jewish. Five incumbents have primary opponents – four Democrats and one Republican. Ethan Lustig-Elgrably, the grandson of Holocaust survivors, is the only Jewish candidate running in a primary for the State Assembly. He is seeking to fill the open seat vacated by Pamela Harris after she was indicted on corruption charges.

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Marc Gronich is news director of Statewide News Service. He also operates the website JBizTechValley.com. He has been covering government and politics since 1981. His Albany Beat column appears monthly in The Jewish Press.