Dem machine holds strong in B’Heights Assembly race

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Jo Anne Simon
File photo by Jason Speakman

So much for that insurgency.

The race to replace Assemblywoman Joan Millman (D–Brooklyn Heights) ended with a win for her successor of choice Jo Anne Simon. It was also a victory for the Brooklyn Democratic machine as Working Families Party pick Pete Sikora fell 1,300 votes short of Simon’s 5,482 on primary night, with 97 percent of polls tallied. Sikora, a union lobbyist, brought a sophisticated campaign infrastructure to the race as well as the support of some pols it helped win big last year, including Mayor DeBlasio, but Simon said the old guard of the Democratic Party is changing shape to adapt to the new political landscape.

“It’s going to be a different game,” Simon said, at her victory party in the sports bar 200 Fifth in Park Slope, amid clinking glasses of beer and plates of wings, and between the five pages worth of names she thanked.

Among those names was Frank Seddio, the party’s Brooklyn chairman who replaced disgraced former Assemblyman Vito Lopez when he resigned amid sexual harassment allegations last year.

“He knows Brooklyn is changing,” said Simon about Seddio. “He is taking the Democratic Party in a different direction.”

Seddio was not so concerned about the appearance of propriety on primary day that he avoided stumping for Canarsie state Senator John Sampson, who ran and won despite having been indicted on corruption charges.

Simon has served as female district leader to Brooklyn Heights, an unpaid but influential party position, for a decade, and this was her second run at elected office. She lost a race against Greenpoint Councilman Steve Levin in 2009.

Not so fast: Pete Sikora fell short of the seat.
Photo by Jason Speakman

As for her foe Sikora, this was his first shot at office and it came with the formidable backing of the union-run Working Families Party. But the big push was not enough.

“We ran a really good race,” Sikora said after conceding. “We raised the issues we wanted to raise, but just came up short.”

Simon, Sikora, and a third candidate, building superintendant Doug Biviano, participated in a flurry of debates in the week running up to the primary. The discussion revealed only minor differences in position between Simon and Sikora on the district’s biggest issues — the closing of Long Island College Hospital, development in Brooklyn Bridge Park, and the sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library branch — with both expressing opposition to the existing plans. Biviano, meanwhile, focused on condemning connections between politics and the real estate industry.

Simon and Biviano found common ground in attacking Sikora’s fund-raising and campaign spending, saying his support came largely from unions and that by transferring a lump of money to the Working Families Party he obscured what it was used for.

Simon’s backing came from more established Democrats, including Millman, who is retiring after 17 years in office, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D–New York), and Congresswomen Nydia Velazquez (D–Bushwick). Velazquez was on hand for the victory party as was Comptroller Scott Stringer, who opined that the right person won.

“This race was not easy,” Stringer said. “Powerful special interests were aligned against us,” refering to the Sikora’s union support. “But at the end of the day the person that won this race was a person who brought a real record of reform. Someone who was a liberal reformer before they invented the word ‘progressive.’ ”

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260-8310. E-mail him at mperl‌man@c‌ngloc‌al.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.
Huzzah: Congresswoman Nydia Valzquez, left, and Assemblywoman Joan Millman, right, stand with the newly elected candidate for Millman’s seat Jo Anne Simon.
Photo by Jason Speakman