This year’s biggest election battle is being waged on the lowest rung of the political ladder — a fight for a district leader post in the heart of Brownstone Brooklyn.
Now, make no mistake: only political insiders care about races for district leader — obscure, unpaid, rarely challenged party officials who gather other candidates’ nominating positions, hire Election Day poll wokers and vote for the county leader.
Ah, but that last responsibility — choosing the Brooklyn Democratic boss — is the key to this week’s announcement that youngsters Hope Reichbach, best known as spokeswoman to Councilman Steve Levin (D-Williamsburg), and attorney Stephen Williamson are taking on older incumbents Jo Ann Simon and Alan Fleishman to become the state committee members representing Assemblywoman Joan Millman’s district, which includes basically everything from DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights to Carroll Gardens, Park Slope and Prospect Heights.
Reichbach and Williamson have the backing of the current Kings County Democratic Boss, Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D-Williamsburg), who has apparently encouraged the would-be power pair to run. Meanwhile, Fleishman and Simon are constantly bucking the party leader.
“Actually, he considers us ‘Public Enemy number 1,’ ” said Fleishman, a 27-year resident of the district who has held the post for eight years. “We didn’t support his candidates for Surrogate Court. We fought him when he tried to get an unqualified person on the Board of Elections. And we bucked him when he tried to put Noach Dear on the bench without a judicial screening panel.
“Bottom line? He’s gunning for us because we’re not willing to go along with everything he wants because he’s the county leader,” added Fleishman.
Simon also framed the race as a Vito attack, saying that there was “no reason for [Reichbach] to consider a run” if Lopez hadn’t cajoled her into it.
But Reichbach and Williamson are saying the opposite: Lopez didn’t play a role in their decision or exerted any influence. The links between Reichbach and Lopez are pretty straightforward: Reichbach works for Levin, who was Lopez’s chief of staff and protege. She’s also the daughter of Judge Gustin Reichbach, whom county leaders helped put on the bench in 1991. She even calls Lopez a “family friend.”
Reichbach and Williamson both worked on Levin’s successful campaign.
“I grew up in Boerum Hill,” Reichbach said. “This district is supposed to be a liberal bastion, but there’s no Democratic Party cohesiveness and there’s not a lot of participation. We need to get people more engaged.”
More engaged? The free for all for former Councilman David Yassky’s seat was one of the most closely watched races in the city, culminating with Levin’s victory over six rivals. In the neighboring fight for former Councilman Bill DeBlasio’s seat in Park Slope, Brad Lander was one of five candidates in the Democratic primary.
In addition to a proxy battle over Vito Lopez and his grip on power, the Simon-Fleishman vs. Reichbach-Williamson battle is also one the ages — literally.
Reichbach is new to Brooklyn’s political scene, which is mostly a result of her limited years on the planet (she’s 21). Williamson is 36 and another newcomer to the political scene.
Simon is 57 and Fleishman is 52.
The only thing left to wonder is whether anyone beyond the four candidates, the Democratic Party Boss, and the poll workers who get jobs on Election Day even care about this race. Political insider Lincoln Restler suggested that we should.
“Fleishman and Simon have always stood up against [Lopez], and he wants to give their district leader seats to someone more compliant and quiet,” explained Restler, vice president of the New Kings Democrats, a progressive club. “Nobody cares about these jobs, but Vito cares because they’re fundamental to his own election as Democratic Party chair.”