Montalbano, with support of reform wing, trounces county party pick Paul in Surrogate Court race

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State Supreme Court Justice Rosemarie Montalbano and Civil Court Judge Dweynie Esther Paul.
Contributed photo/Photo by Romain Vail

State Supreme Court Justice Rosemarie Montalbano resoundingly defeated Civil Court Judge Dweynie Esther Paul in the race for Kings County Surrogate Court Judge, handing a victory to reformers over the county party in a race that, in some ways, came to be a referendum on political patronage.

As of Wednesday morning, Montalbano held a 25 point lead over Paul, per the city Board of Elections, 62.2 percent to 37.25 percent, with nearly 97 percent of precincts reporting. Since judicial races are under the purview of state election law, ranked-choice voting was not in effect (though it wouldn’t have been in play anyway, since there were only two candidates), so Montalbano declared victory Wednesday morning.

“I am extremely honored that I was overwhelmingly chosen by the people of Brooklyn to serve as one of their Surrogate Court judges,” Montalbano said in a statement. “It’s extremely encouraging that my message of fairness and reform resonated with so many ethnic, geographic, and ideological lines. I believe that honesty, integrity, and fairness are values that we all share. This is why I will approach the position of Surrogate with a diligent work ethic, and the utmost commitment to the people of Kings County who have entrusted me to serve them. As long as I serve in the office, in that capacity, I will do all in my power to make them proud.”

The Surrogate Court, which handles wills and estates, has historically been something of a haven for political patronage, owing to the Surrogate’s ability to name both the “Public Administrator,” a plum position that administers the estates of those who die without wills, and the PA’s counsel. These roles have historically often gone to those with connections to the county party.

One of the key differences between Montalbano and Paul was their position on the PA: Montalbano supports a bill in Albany to move appointment power for the PA from the Surrogate to the mayor, in an effort to limit patronage in the court. Paul does not support the measure.

Brooklyn Surrogate Court has also been marked by rampant dysfunction and infighting. The other judge on the Surrogate bench, Harriet Thompson, has feuded with PA Richard Buckheit for years; a recent audit by City Comptroller Scott Stringer found “significant weaknesses affecting the KCPA’s management structure and operating practices related to the administration of estates.”

Paul was the pick of the county party, and Chair Rodneyse Bichotte, who is close with Paul, pushed hard for her nomination.

While the Surrogate race was a romp for Montalbano, other judicial races in Brooklyn are down to the wire. In countywide Civil Court, Inga O’Neale is leading Casilda Roper-Simpson by 2,090 votes, 36.45 percent to 35.52 percent as of Wednesday morning. A very tight three-way race is also taking place in Municipal Civil Court District 2, which includes parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights: DC37 staff attorney Lisa Lewis leads with 35.93 percent, followed closely by public defender Marva Brown with 33.54 percent and law clerk Lola Waterman with 30.2 percent.

In Municipal District 7, covering parts of Bushwick and East New York, attorney Keisha Alleyne beat fellow attorney Carmen Pacheco by a substantial margin, 65.82 percent to 33.82 percent.

In a statement, Montalbano’s senior advisor congratulated the candidate on her “historic victory.”

“Never let anyone tell you what you can or can not accomplish,” said Musa Moore. “Team Montalbano, we did it.”

Paul’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Correction (3:42 pm): This article has been updated to correct an arithmetic error. Inga O’Neale is leading Casilda Roper-Simpson in the countywide Civil Court by 2,090 votes, not by 90 votes as initially reported.