One of Brooklyn’s oldest and most-progressive political clubhouses was riven last night after a closed-door meeting led to the “insulting” endorsement of the most-conservative of five Democratic candidates seeking to succeed Councilman Bill DeBlasio.
John Heyer, an aide to Borough President Markowitz who had actually boycotted a candidate forum earlier in the week claiming it was “rigged” against him, won the endorsement of the Independent Neighborhood Democrats, despite his anti-abortion stance and opinion that marriage should be entirely abandoned by the state rather than let homosexuals participate.
Heyer, 27, got the nod of a scant 52 percent of club members after the Thursday night endorsement meeting at Long Island College Hospital — an event that featured far more talk about local issues such as cleaning up the Gowanus Canal and fixing potholes than federal laws about a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy or state legislative moves on marriage.
Heyer, the youngest of the candidates seeking to represent Park Slope, Carroll Gardens and Windsor Terrace, has been a member of the club since he was 18. In a heated question-and-answer session, he defended his position on marriage, saying that the state should only issue “civil unions” for all couples. “Marriage” would be merely a religious or private ceremony “carrying no legal weight,” he said.
Several club members challenged him on that, including one gay man who said, “I just want to marry my partner of 17 years!”
Heyer responded that he wanted “the same rights for everyone — civil unions.”
But most of the evening was dominated by jocularity. Openly gay candidate Bob Zuckerman, who was endorsed earlier in the week by a local Democratic district leader in a letter that was seen as a broadside against Heyer, spoke just before Heyer at the end of a long endorsement forum.
“Now comes the fun part,” Zuckerman said.
When it was Heyer’s turn to speak, he joked, too. “You thought your part was the fun part, Bob?”
After the closed-door vote, rival candidate Josh Skaller, who has been endorsed by the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, another club, put out a statement: “It is sad that a majority of IND’s voting membership insulted many IND members and community residents by choosing to support a conservative Democrat for City Council who opposes Superfund relief for the Gowanus Canal and whose opinions on choice and marriage equality are confusing, at best.
“The residents of the [district] want progressive leadership committed to reforming city government and unafraid of marriage equality, a woman’s right to choose and a real, federally supported clean-up of the Gowanus Canal.”
Club President Kenn Lowy, reached by phone on Friday, shared Skaller’s discontent, saying he was “disappointed” by the vote.
“I was hoping for a ‘No endorsement,’” he said. “I am disappointed.”
Lowy said that many rank and file members of the club were accusing Heyer of “packing” the club with new members, but Lowy said that Heyer and his people “played fair and by the rules.”
“John and his people really treated this like a get-out-the-vote campaign — and that’s fine,” he said.
Lowy is now presiding over a badly split club. When asked if he would campaign for his club’s endorsed choice in the primary, he paused, sucked in a breath, and said he would issue a statement on Tuesday. (See updated story on www.BrooklynPaper.com.)
As far as plotting a course forward for the club, which was founded as an anti-Vietnam War club decades ago, that will also have to wait.
“There are some really, really sore feelings out there,” he said. “After the primary, it will be my job to put everything back together again.”
The other candidates in the race are Brad Lander, former director of the Pratt Center for Community Development and Gary Reilly.
In the other main Brownstone Brooklyn contest — the race to succeed Councilman David Yassky (D-Brooklyn Heights) — the club gave its endorsement to Jo Anne Simon, the only woman in the seven-person race. All candidates for the seat showed up to seek the club’s endorsement — except Steve Levin, who is chief of staff to Assemblyman Vito Lopez, the powerful county Democratic chairman.
Levin has been dogged by allegations that he does not care about the Brownstone Brooklyn portion of the district, which includes parts of Greenpoint, Williamsburg, DUMBO, Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill and Park Slope.
Simon is a civil rights lawyer.