Streams

As the dust settles in the 54th Assembly, future plans begin to take shape

Friday, September 16, 2011 - 01:21 PM

This post has been updated.

Rafael Espinal, the Democratic and Conservative Party pick in Brooklyn's 54th Assembly District, managed to fend off two better-financed campaigns to become one of the new members of the New York State Assembly. The win was just as much a victory for Espinal's patrons as it was for the young candidate.

The long-time local assemblyman and head of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, Vito Lopez, was able to get his pick into a seat previously held by Congressman Ed Towns' son for nearly 20 years. Councilman Erik Martin Dilan, who Espinal works (or worked) for, is a strong ally of Lopez's, as is his father, Senator Martin Malavé Dilan.

But looking at the results, more than half of the voters in the race voted for someone other than Espinal, who captured 44.4 percent of the vote. The Espinal campaign had said before the race that they expected a primary challenge next year, and given the results, they're probably right.

Many things will be different next year. It will be a presidential election year, meaning resources and attention will be divided. Espinal and whoever his opponent is will be vying for the Democratic Party line in a primary, instead of having the party leadership hand-pick their candidate. Additionally, the number of real contenders for the spot would probably drop from three to two.

Which is likely what the folks who supported Espinal's strongest opponent, Working Families Party-backed Jesus Gonzalez, would like to see. Their candidate came in second, and did better than expected, according to folks inside the campaign, in areas considered strongholds of the other candidate in the race, Congressman Ed Towns's daughter Deidra.

As mentioned, many things will be different next year. Perhaps most importantly for the pro-Gonzalez camp, the Working Families Party won't be focusing all its energy on one state Assembly race. Indeed, they are courting a potential challenger to Congressman Towns. Considering how poorly his daughter did, the congressman's chances of being challenged just went way up.

There are many moving parts here, but there are some interesting possible scenarios. Negotiations between Towns's long-time ally and Gonzalez political patron, Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, could push for a deal between with reform elements she backs, like New Kings Democrats, to get support for a primary challenge in the 54th. This might come in the form of putting the brakes on Towns's likely challengers Councilman Charles Barron and Assemblyman Hakeem Jefferies for one more cycle, allowing Towns to exist gracefully rather than being forced out.

Of course, considering their win, the Lopez coalition could see an opportunity to go after Velazquez, though the scope of their base doesn't reach as far as the long-serving congresswoman in Manhattan's Lower East Side and Sunset Park in Brooklyn. Meanwhile, this would seem to strengthen Lopez's hand in  the open local council seat vacated by the term-limited Diana Reyna in 2013. new challenge to his former ally, Councilwoman Diana Reyna, in 2013 city council primary.

While it's still very early to make definitive predictions, it's certainly clear that the reverberations of Tuesday's vote are already being felt. But many of these decisions will have to wait until the redistricting process shakes out, as everyone waits to see what the districts -- from the Assembly to Congress -- actually look like.

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