District Leader Races: Why They Matter

If you’re registered to vote as a Democrat and show up at the polls on September 14 (a week from this Tuesday) to vote in the primary election, you’ll find several races on the ballot. The one that has gotten the most attention in the form of TV and other advertising and press coverage is the statewide Attorney General race to succeed Andrew Cuomo, who is running for Governor, in which five candidates are vying for the nomination. Another statewide race that has received little attention is the challenge of Brooklyn Heights resident Gail Goode to incumbent U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Locally, State Assembly Member Joan Millman faces a challenge from Heights resident Doug Biviano.

Further down the ballot are two races that, if you’re not a New York politics wonk, may appear perplexing or inconsequential. These are for the female and male district leaders for the 52nd Assembly District, the district presently represented by Ms. Millman that includes Brooklyn Heights and nearby areas. Why are these races important? Read on.

There are two Democratic district leaders, one male and one female, for each State Assembly district. These are unpaid, part-time positions, but to be a Democratic district leader in Brooklyn, which is almost solidly Democratic, is to have considerable power. As this Atlantic Yards Report post explains:

What do district leaders do? Help pick the party’s chairman, help pick judges–a real opportunity for patronage–hire poll workers, and help get candidates on the ballot.

The incumbent female district leader for the 52nd A.D. is Jo Anne Simon, who was a candidate for City Council from the 33rd District, which includes the Heights, last year, finishing second in a field of seven. The winner of that election, Steve Levin, previously was chief of staff for Assembly Member and Brooklyn Democratic Party chair Vito Lopez. The candidate opposing Simon for female district leader, Hope Reichbach, works for Levin. Simon, along with the incumbent male district leader, Alan Fleishman, has a history of challenging Lopez’s authority. This May 14 Brooklyn Paper article quotes Fleishman on his and Simon’s record:

“Actually, [Lopez] considers us ‘Public Enemy number 1,’ ” said Fleishman, a 27-year resident of the district who has held the post for eight years. “We didn’t support his candidates for Surrogate Court. We fought him when he tried to get an unqualified person on the Board of Elections. And we bucked him when he tried to put Noach Dear on the bench without a judicial screening panel.

Fleishman is not running for re-election, and three candidates are vying for his office. The pro-Lopez candidate is Stephen Williamson. In addition to being backed by Lopez, Reichbach and Williamson have the support of Borough President Marty Markowitz. The two other candidates for male district leader are Jesse Strauss who, along with Simon, has the support of Assembly Member Millman as well as of the Independent Neighborhood Democrats (of which Strauss serves on the executive committee), and Chris Owens, who is supported by the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats (of which he is a past president) and the Lambda Independent Democrats.

A tip of the hat to BHB reader and commenter “Publius” for urging coverage of these races.

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  • Publius (f/k/a Not JTL)

    Well Done! And thank you for covering these races. Now we just need to get the entire 52nd AD to read this before the primary.

  • AAR

    Claude – Thanks a bunch. This is really useful information. Can’t believe I read the whole thing!

  • BS Meter

    Just an open question: How about investigating/asking about “why” the Borough President would choose to support a 21-yr. old in Ms. Reichbach — as District Leader in the 52nd AD — over someone with Mrs. Simon’s resume and long track record within civic circles, here?

  • http://deleted Anon

    Ms.Simon is an apologist for housing inside our public parks. She lost her council race in good part because of this issue and the fact that, when it mattered to have the courage to stand up for the community’s park plan, she did nothing but apologize that housing inside parks is needed. In so doing, she really screwed her neighborhood (Boerum Hill), a community in dire need of parks and recreational facilities. Thank goodness Steve Levin won the election based in good part on his support of a true park without private luxury housing inside its borders. So, if Councilman Levin (a TRUE progressive on many issues) is supporting Hope Reichbach, that is enough for most voters. Thanks, Claude, for reminding us what matters!