Who will be the next party boss? Rival Dems vie to replace Vito Lopez

Who will be the next party boss? Rival Dems vie to replace Vito Lopez
The Brooklyn Paper / Tom Callan

Rival politicos from liberal Brownstone Brooklyn and old school Southern Brooklyn are fighting to become Brooklyn’s new boss now that scandal-scarred Assemblyman Vito Lopez will not seek reelection as party chairman due to allegations that sexually harassed Albany employees.

Canarsie district leader Frank Seddio, a longtime member of the old guard Thomas Jefferson Democratic Club, and Brooklyn Heights district leader Jo Anne Simon, who ran a failed Council campaign against the Lopez machine, are already jockeying for support among the borough’s fractured party leadership, which will elect a new boss next month.

Seddio, a former assemblyman himself, says he’s the clear favorite over Simon.

“It’s kind of like running a marathon, where I’m coming in number one and she’s number 6,367,” said Seddio, who has already snagged the endorsement of Borough President Markowitz. “She might be in the race, but there’s a very big difference between us.

The Canarsie attorney says his ability to bridge gaps and bring people together makes him a natural choice for the borough’s top Democrat — a powerful post coveted by politicos because party bosses appoint judges.

“I’m going to very actively pursue the leadership,” he said. “I will reach out to all the leaders — I have a good relation with all of them and I think that I can count on their support.”

At the very least, he can rely on backing from Michael Geller and Pearl Siegelman, the male and female district leaders in Sheepshead Bay, who voiced their support for Seddio despite belonging to a different democratic club — the High-Way Club.

“The borough’s becoming more conservative and she’s very liberal,” said Geller. “Frank has been around long enough and he’s a very good district leader.”

Simon, for her part, says it’s time for a woman to head Brooklyn’s Democratic party — and hopes she can alter a club culture that marginalizes female members.

“Women’s views are not solicited, their perspectives are not listened to,” said Simon, who casts as part of the Lopez political machine. “We have to move forward into a new era.”

One of the first moves Simon said she would make as chairwoman would be to get rid of the “at large” committee members — direct appointees by Lopez and previous party bosses who, unlike most district leaders, were chosen for their seats rather than elected.

Lopez was accused of cronyism for naming a handful of his supporters as new “at large” members — including Seddio, who later was elected to the obscure district leader position on his own merits.

“We need to open things up to make them more transparent,” said Simon, who lost a 2009 city council race to Councilman Steve Levin (D–Williamsburg) — a Lopez-backed candidate. “We need chances for the leadership to develop.”

But paring down the party posts to just male and female district leaders from each Brooklyn assembly district won’t be easy — especially because the Lopez-appointed members will likely be asked to vote on their own fate.

District leader Chris Owens, Simon’s male counterpart in Brooklyn Heights, said Simon is the best person for the job, but fears the “ad hoc members” will be a major challenge for her.

“I don’t know for sure that they’re all going to vote for Seddio, but if you have to bet on each one, if they were appointed by Vito and they don’t have loyalty to someone else, they are going to view it as a last act of loyalty to their former boss,” said Owens.

Lopez has not resigned from his Assembly seat, but he remains under investigation for allegedly funneling money through his housing non-profit. His predecessor as party boss, Clarence Norman, was disbarred and removed from the chair position in 2006 after he was found guilty on corruption and bribery charges.

Seddio, who has described his relationship with Lopez as a “friendship,” says he recognizes the seriousness of the charges brought against the Democratic honcho — but doubts the current scandal will detract from what he says is a largely positive legacy.

“We have to remember, Vito came in and made a great effort to unify the party at the time,” he said. “The party was in the red, there was no money to function or operate, and today, through Vito’s efforts, we brought the party into the black and we can maintain our operations throughout the county.”

Assemblyman Alan Maisel (D–Canarsie), who replaced Seddio when he stepped down from his Albany post, said that Seddio’s likely to be the next boss thanks to his ability to bring people with opposing view points to the same table.

“He is very well liked, and he’s well liked amongst people who are on opposite sides of the political world,” said Maisel. “He’s just a very nice guy, he’s very sincere, he has a lot of experience, and he will understand the views of the other guy. He doesn’t try to divide people.”

But insiders say Simon and Seddio aren’t the only possible contenders.

Assemblyman Karim Camara (D–Crown Heights) is reportedly considering a run, but the chairman of the Assembly’s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus has not yet officially declared his candidacy.