Dems spar over Reform Party

One of the Democratic challengers vying to unseat Bay Ridge’s lone Republican state pol handed back the cash he received from leaders of the Brooklyn Reform Party after critics blasted him, charging that taking the donation meant he supports the party’s anti-immigration rhetoric.

Andrew Gounardes first accepted $225 from the party’s leaders, including local conservative (and Courier columnist) Bob Capano, who endorsed President Trump during the 2016 election, controversially called his 2017 Council opponent Rev. Khader El-Yateem a “radical cleric,” and penned an op-ed backing Fort Hamilton Army Base for detaining undocumented immigrant Pablo Villavicencio-Calderon when he tried to deliver a pizza to the base.

Gounardes also accepted the Reform Party’s ballot line, meaning that he is guaranteed a spot on the November ballot even if he loses his own party’s primary — potentially splitting the liberal vote and helping the Republican incumbent, state Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge).

“My opponent in my Democratic primary, who I respect, took Capano’s money and his party’s endorsement — we can’t take the backing of an organization a proud Trump supporter runs, take the $$ of a Trump supporter, and also combat the horrible racism and xenophobia that exists in our community,” said Gounardes’ Democratic rival Ross Barkan on social media.

But Gounardes defended having his name on the line, saying that the Reform Party’s values don’t necessarily align with those of its leaders, and insisting that, as the grandson of Greek immigrants, he has always been a strong supporter of immigration.

“Immigration is a cornerstone of my campaign and I have always been an unrelenting advocate in defense of immigrants’ rights. Let me state unequivocally what anyone who knows me already knows — I have not and will never support, believe, or condone the personal views of Bob Capano on immigration and immigrants in our community, and I have a long record to prove it,” Gounardes said in a statement. “But I have never, nor would I ever, trade in my principles for the political expediency of winning an election. I recognize that some may feel that accepting a donation from the Reform Party’s leaders somehow means that I am bought and bossed by them. That cannot be further from the truth.”

Gounardes cannot get his name off Reform Party’s ballot line — unless he dies, runs for another office, or moves away — but he donated the $225 contribution to the New York Immigration Coalition. Still, Barkan said that doesn’t go far enough.

“I am happy my primary opponent has heeded our call and given up Capano’s money. I’ve covered enough campaigns to know surrendering a ballot line is another matter,” said Barkan, a former journalist. “The Brooklyn Reform Party, because of Capano, *is* tainted and NO Democrat should seek it out.”

The winner of the Sept. 13 primary will go on to face Golden in November on the Democratic Party line.

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A group of county Democrats are asking their party boss to boot a rogue Democratic pol who still caucuses with the Republicans in the state Senate even after members of the now-defunct Independent Democratic Conference rejoined the fold in April.

The head of the Ernest Skinner Political Association, a Dems’ club founded by Midwood Councilman Jumaane Williams, handed Brooklyn Democratic Party boss Frank Seddio on July 18 more than 20 affidavits demanding that he disenroll state Sen. Simcha Felder (D–Midwood) from the party because of his disloyalty, which has routinely blocked much-needed legislation from passing in Albany, including the life-saving speed camera program.

“For too long, Sen. Felder has betrayed the Brooklyn Democratic Party and they have done nothing about it,” wrote Ernest Skinner. “I know many fellow Democrats in Senate District 17 who feel abandoned, both by their state senator and by their party.”

Seddio — who has previously ignored party members’ questions about Felder — did not respond to a request for comment.

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A coalition of Brooklyn Democratic pols threw their support behind the candidate challenging a former Independent Democratic Conference member last week.

Councilmembers Brad Lander (D–Park Slope), Carlos Menchaca (D–Red Hook), and Antonio Reynoso (D–Williamsburg) endorsed Zellnor Myrie against state Sen. Jesse Hamilton (D–Crown Heights) after the sitting pol allegedly sent out a slanderous e-mail about an Albany colleague earlier this month when she threw her support behind Myrie.

Myrie also racked up the support of assemblymembers Walter Mosley (D–Fort Greene), Diana Richardson (D–Crown Heights), Jo Anne Simon (D–Brooklyn Heights), and Robert Carroll (D–Park Slope).

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.