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The Empire

Perkins Challenger Latches Onto Obama, Moves Away from Bloomberg

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Perkins, an early Obama supporter, not a big fan of charter schools. (Perkins' campaign web site)

Basil Smikle, the Democratic challenger to State Senator Bill Perkins, was on the defensive for a good chunk of their debate last night on NY1.

Smikle's challenge to Perkins is fueled in no small part because of the issue of charter schools: Smikle supports them; Perkins, for the most part, opposes them (although he did vote to raise the cap on them after changes to the law governing them were made).

Supporters for Smikle and Perkins line up pretty cleanly based on the education issue: charter school supporters are behind Smikle; public school advocates support Perkins.

Anyway, during the debate, Smikle - a political consultant running as a candidate for the first time - was on the defensive about who supports him.

“It’s insane to think the [New York] Post would urge me to run for political office. To put my life on the line, to open myself up," Smikle said at one point. The New York Post has waged a fairly intense campaign in favor of charter schools, and has given plenty of critical coverage to Perkins.

Smikle also sought to distance himself from Mayor Bloomberg, whom he worked for last year, and is an outspoken charter school supporter.

"I am not close to the mayor. I worked with him for one year. I’m actually a lot closer to the Clintons than I am to the mayor. I worked with them a lot longer," said Smikle.

Needless to say, the Clintons are much more popular in the Harlem and Morning Side Heights parts of the district. (The district also includes the Upper West Side - where I'd love to see polling numbers for Bloomberg and the Clintons.)

Later in the debate, Perkins took a swipe at Smikle for taking money from "hedge fund" managers who, as stories in The Times and elsewhere pointed out, often bankroll charter school efforts.

Smikle had an interesting response: associate those donors with Obama, a popular figure throughout the district.

"Now, in terms of those who have donated who are in the financial industry, what’s interesting about those individuals is that the majority of them actually donated to Obama very early on in his campaign because they supported his position on education and on school choice," said Smikle. Those donors to Obama, says Smikle, are giving to his campaign, not Perkins.

Obama is a supporter of charter schools, and is, some say, helping realigning the Democratic Party on this issue.

But Smikle's attempt to latch onto Obama's coattails is interesting for other reasons too. Smikle worked for Hillary Clinton who, famously, ran against Obama in the 2008 presidential primary. Also, the first elected official in New York CIty to endorse Obama was a State Senator by the name of...Bill Perkins.