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Sampson Agonistes

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It will take more than a couple of criminal charges to knock John Sampson out of his seat in Albany — it would take a primary loss next Tuesday.

Twice-indicted state Sen. Sampson (D–Canarsie) is facing charges from 2013 of allegedly stealing more than $400,000 from foreclosed house sales, and was charged months later with lying to federal investigators about his ownership of a liquor store, but with the primaries approaching on Sept. 9, the 17-year incumbent is still seeking reelection, even as more allegations are thrown his way.

The former senate majority leader said he is putting his faith in the courts, and the voters.

“Thank god for our judicial system,” said Sampson in an interview with the Mill-Marine Courier, adding he is glad the media is not the jury. “It is interesting that the press believes in freedom of the press but they don’t believe in the person’s right to due process.”

One of the most recent allegations against Sampson, coming via the New York Post, involves Sampson’s former top aide, Melvin Lowe. Lowe has admitted to giving $75,000 of Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee money to a senator, whom a Post source said is Sampson. Sampson vehemently denied involvement, and suggested it was a ploy by his former aide to gain a plea deal.

“There is absolutely no truth to that whatsoever,” said Sampson. “It’s very unfortunate when people seem to get themselves into a predicament — they’re looking for a way out.”

Sampson still enjoys the support of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, led by Canarsie resident Frank Seddio. And former Borough President Marty Markowitz also recently voiced his support for the beleaguered incumbent.

Sampson’s biggest supporter so far in this election is an alleged former Gambino family associate, George Fortunato, whom Sampson said he considers a family friend. Fortunato donated $10, 500 to the embattled pol — his largest single campaign contribution by far in this election cycle.

Sampson denied the allegations about Fortunato supposed mob associations, and suggested that their mutual experience of trial-by-tabloid was what motivated for the donation.

“His association — there is no truth to that whatsoever,” said Sampson. “Because of the atmosphere created by the media outlets, he stood up and said, ‘You know what, John, you’re a friend. I know who you are I know what you have done. I want to support you.’ ”

But many labor unions, once among Sampson’s staunchest supporters, are deserting him in favor of one of his primary challengers, Dell Smitherman, a political coordinator with health care workers union Local 1199.

In April, the labor-backed Working Families Party — which previously had endorsed Sampson — announced it was endorsing Smitherman.

“Dell Smitherman is an honest, unyielding advocate for who will fight tirelessly for his district,” said Bill Lipton, New York State Director of the Working Families Party.

Smitherman has also received endorsements from Gov. Cuomo and Mayor DeBlasio.

In addition to Smitherman, Sampson is also facing primary challenges from Sean Henry, a former candidate for City Council, and Elias Weir, all of whom are making political hay out of his legal troubles.

“You know what, people will pounce on what they perceive to be negative and how it is portrayed,” said Sampson.

But Sampson said people in his district aren’t concerned with what newspapers report because they are too busy worrying about the essentials — like food, shelter, and education.

“My constituents in the district are concerned about making sure that their child can get a fabulous education,” said Sampson. “They’re concerned about making sure they can put food on the table, a roof over their head.”

He said his Sheepshead Bay-to-East New York district, which includes some of the poorest parts of the city, is still recovering from the housing bubble.

“The mortgage crisis destroyed — destroyed — a lot of the residents here,” he said.

One of the charges against Sampson — receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from foreclosed houses — may not sit too well those residents suffering from the mortgage crisis. But Sampson said that voters wondering why they should reelect him should simply look at his almost two-decade long career.

“What I ask the voters to look at is my record,” he said. “I have been representing everybody very well.”

Sampson, whose trial will come after the election, said he doesn’t even think about what will happen if he is found guilty.

“What happens if I’m acquitted? That’s the question,” he said.

Reach reporter Vanessa Ogle at vogle@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow her attwitter.com/oglevanessa.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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