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Candidate bucks party machine

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Two contenders have emerged to fill the vacant 19th-district state Senate seat — and they both come from the same political party.

Assemblywoman Roxanne Persaud (D–Canarsie) received the nomination of the Democratic Party last month to run in November’s special election to fill the seat vacated by John Sampson in July after he was convicted of obstructing a federal investigation into his alleged embezzlement of funds.

But Samuel Pierre, a member of Kings County Democratic Party head Frank Seddio’s Thomas Jefferson Democratic Club and a former Sampson intern, has decided to run without the backing of his party. He is pursuing the Working Families Party line, and says he is the best choice to serve a district — which includes Canarsie, East New York and parts of Brownsville, as well as Mill Basin, Bergen Beach, and parts of Marine Park and Sheepshead Bay — that he has wanted to represent since he worked for Sampson.

“I don’t think anyone knows the full scope of this district the way I do,” said Pierre. “And I don’t think anyone has a better plan to fix this district.”

Persaud, elected to the Assembly last November, said her experience helps make her a better candidate.

“I know I’m qualified to be the state senator,” said Persaud, formerly the president of the 69th Precinct Community Council. “It’s a continuation of the work I’m doing in the Assembly. It covers a neighborhood that I know some of the leaders of because I’ve worked with them. I think I can continue to work with them.”

Pierre is the executive director of the Haitian American Caucus, and formerly served as Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s citywide director of African-American and Caribbean affairs. He also served as the campaign manager for his cousin, Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte (D–Flatbush), when she became the city’s first Haitian-American elected official in 2014.

Pierre has already nabbed the endorsement of the Brooklyn chapter of the Working Families Party, and is currently pursuing the party’s statewide endorsement. The Working Families Party backed Dell Smitherman against Sampson in last year’s Democratic primary, which the indicted incumbent, still backed by the party machine, won handily with more than half the vote in a four-way race.

Pierre said he does not fear making enemies within his own party, and would not comment on speculation that he might run for Persaud’s Assembly seat if she wins the state Senate position. But he criticized Persaud’s decision to run for Sampson’s seat just nine months after her election to the Assembly.

“I think Roxanne considers herself to be a progressive Democrat,” Pierre said. “She should be all about giving other people opportunit­ies.”

Persaud said Pierre’s pursuit of the state Senate seat does not bother her.

“This is a free society,” said Persaud. “I’m not looking to stifle any one’s ambitions. If he’s running and he gets support from someone else, God bless him. That’s his prerogative.”

There is as yet no Republican candidate in the race.

Reach reporter Eric Faynberg at (718) 260–2508 or by e-mail at efaynberg@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @ericfaynberg.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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