by Alan Krawitz
The 2012 Democratic primary in the newly created 7th District. which includes parts of Brooklyn, Queens and the Lower East Side, was billed by many to be one of the toughest challenges of Rep. Nydia Velázquez’s 10 terms in office.
But, that storyline fell short as Velázquez easily won re-nomination as the Democratic candidate by nearly a two-to-one margin over her most serious threat, City Councilman Erik Martin Dilan, who was backed by Brooklyn Democratic Chair and longtime political rival Assemblyman Vito Lopez.
The race, in which Velázquez captured roughly 58 percent of the vote to Dilan’s 31 percent, was plagued by very low voter turnout across the city and state. Total turnout was between 12 and 14 percent, which is possibly due to the unusual primary date of June 26. The primary is usually held in September, but a federal judge changed the date earlier this year to allow military voters to get their ballots in with enough time for the general elections in November.
Velázquez, who will now face off against conservative candidate James Murray in November, was pleased with the primary win.
“I’m honored the working families of New York have placed their confidence in me again,” said Velázquez in an emailed statement. “Together, we can continue our work to make housing more affordable, strengthen local small businesses and create jobs throughout our city.
Sean Sweeney, director of the SoHo Alliance and a member of Downtown Independent Democrats (DID), saw the win as a rejection of local party politics.
“The people’s choice vetoed Vito’s choice,” Sweeney said, referring to Lopez’s backing of Dilan.
Jeanne Wilcke, president of the DID, offered an even more pointed assessment of Lopez’ support for Dilan.
“A vigorous political advocate and organizer is one thing. A bully is another,” Wilcke said. “Vito Lopez has a PR problem. Perception is that he is the bully and it is pay-to-play politics in his circle.”
In response to his defeat, Dilan said in an emailed statement, “While it wasn’t a personal win, it was a victory for the communities of the 7th Congressional District, including my home of Bushwick. For the first time in decades, there were real discussions about the issues our communities face. It was enlightening to take part in a race with candidates from all walks of life with great ideas for how we as a community and country can move forward.”
With regard to his future plans, Dilan added, “As far as where I go from here, for now I am committed to completing my time in the City Council. However, I will continue serving my community and will always look to the best means by which to do so.”
Libertarian-leaning challenger economist Dan O’Connor, who placed third in the race with about 8.2 percent of the vote, lamented that the city’s political apparatus is inhospitable to outside candidates.
“The political machine in New York City is so tightly knit, making it impossible for a non-establishment candidate,” O’Connor said.
Moreover, O’Connor believes political cronyism is a persistent problem. “There are so many favors going on and backscratching that they collectively block off outsiders…I raised almost $75,000 and shook countless hands; the political machine in New York City, by its very nature, rejects non-establishment candidates for office,” he said.
While O’Connor said that he has no immediate plans to run for future office, he reiterated his call to reform the system.
“The political system is broken and needs to be fixed,” he said. “I will certainly be engaged in trying to influence the political system, in one way or another.”
George Martinez, Occupy Wall Street/hip-hop activist and proponent of the “Bum Rush the Vote” style of do-it-yourself campaigning said he was pleased with the outcome of the race, despite his last-place finish that garnered about 3 percent of the vote.
“It was a privilege and honor to be part of the democratic process,” Martinez said.
He also noted that getting almost 3 percent of the vote was “remarkable” given the small amount of funds they raised—just under $10,000—and the relatively short duration of the campaign, only about three months.
“We accomplished showing people that the Occupy model can work. The ‘Bum Rush’ campaign style of getting people into politics and money out will continue,” he said. “Our do-it-yourself style of democracy will continue.
“Our campaign was all about getting people involved in the political process. I think we did that and we will keep doing it going forward.”
Tags: Brooklyn, Bushwick, Dan O'Connor, Downtown Independent Democrats, erik martin dilan, george martinez, James Murray, Jeanne Wilcke, Lower East Side, Nydia Velazquez, Occupy Wall Street, Queens, sean sweeney, Vito Lopez
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