BY SCOTT STIFFLER—Monday and Tuesday mornings are well on their way to becoming the must-see windows of the week for those following the fortunes of candidates hoping to succeed retiring incumbent Richard N. Gottfried and, in doing so, become our state´s first new 75th Assembly District representative in 52 years.
Two weeks ago, on Mon., Feb. 7, Obama administration alum Harrison Marks announced his candidacy, bringing to six the current number in a race rounded out by Manhattan Community Board 4 (CB4) member Chris LeBron, current CB4 member and former CB4 Chair Lowell Kern, Manhattan Community Board 5 (CB5) member Layla Law-Gisiko, Penn South Co-Op President Ambur Nicosia, and community organizer Tony Simone. Not to be outdone by that field of hopefuls, NYS Assemblymember Gottfried—who announced his retirement on Mon., Dec. 13 of last year—declared his endorsement of Tony Simone on Tues., Feb 15.
Like so much in the race so far, it was further fodder for those who expect the unexpected. Proceeding Gottfried´s public support of Simone was the endorsement of Chris LeBron by the Hell´s Kitchen Democrats (HKDems), a political club whose January 27 candidate forum marked the first occasion all at-the-time-announced candidates gathered online to make their case and tackle questions. (Former NYC Council staffer Louis Holden-Brown suspended his campaign shortly thereafter, joining onetime NYC Council CB4 liason Carl Wilson, who bowed out prior to last month´s forum.)
Mindful of the HKDems endorsement and the impending vote by his own home political club (the Chelsea Reform Democratic Club, aka CRDC; click here to view their Feb. 2 candidate forum), Assemblymember Gottfried told Chelsea Community News that the timing of his endorsement was also sensitive to the election cycle calendar. Speaking with us on the evening of his announcement after a full day´s work in Albany, Gottfried said, “It’s not really that early in the Primary season. Primary Day is about four months away. Petitioning to get on the ballot begins in about two weeks… So I want to be helpful [to Tony] in any way I can.”
Asked for the must-have criteria that secured his vote of confidence, Gottfried pointed to results-oriented constituent services and coalition-building as vital to the job and subject to observation prior to a person´s debut on the campaign trail. Simone, he noted, withstood the scrutiny of observation over time.
“I´ve known Tony for many years, primarily in his work for the Friends of Hudson River Park, said Gottfried, who was one of the creators of the legislation that (pardon the phrase) cemented the creation of Hudson River Park. “And I knew him a little before that when he worked for the City Council, particularly on constituent issues.” Of the latter, said Gottfried, “It´s not something that all legislators are good at and it´s often difficult—but enormously important to the job.”
Recalling Simone´s work as Director of Community Outreach for the NYC Council and Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Gottfried noted Simone was “helping to develop support for marriage [equality] legislation at a time when that was a hot topic… He´s always struck me as a smart, hard-working, levelheaded, dedicated person, and I know his politics are strongly progressive—that´s the package that I want to see in somebody who´s going to be my successor.”
With the CRDC endorsement meeting two days away at the time our interview took place, Gottfried noted, “I will certainly be speaking for him [Tony] at that meeting.” As opinions are formed leading up to June 28´s Primary Day, the Assemblymember tasked with championing Chelsea, Hell´s Kitchen, Murray Hill, Midtown, and parts of Lincoln Center hopes voters “who are making up their minds will value my endorsement. I´m also hoping we can get a good consensus of the people [electeds] who represent Chelsea and Hell´s Kitchen to endorse Tony.” (Simone, recent recipient of former State Senator Tom Duane´s endorsement, came up short at the CRDC meeting, with the club´s endorsement going to Layla Law-Gisiko.)
Speaking with Chelsea Community News the day after Gottfried´s announcement, Simone said he wants “to be a successor to his progressive vision. He´s always been about building coalitions—and as an organizer and advocate, I think we share that commitment to being part of a community-led effort, to always make sure to reach out, to never think we have all the answers.”
Said Simone, in a press release from his campaign on the day the endorsement was announced, “Dick’s steady, progressive leadership over the past five decades inspires the work I do every day. I will never forget how Dick had the bravery to stand up and establish my rights and those of my friends by introducing New York’s first Marriage Equality bill in 2003.” Further citing Gottfried´s role in the passage of marijuana legislation and the still-active quest for single-payer healthcare, Simone asserted his dedication “to continuing the moral legacy of the 75th Assembly District that he has established.”
Simone noted this aversion to unchecked confidence will extend to how he conducts himself as a candidate, moving forward. “I´m proud to receive this endorsement,” said Simone. “It makes me work harder. There are a lot of good people in this race, and I´m taking nothing for granted.”
With the recent addition of Marks as a candidate, different endorsements by two political clubs, and Gottfried´s support of Simone, it´s anything-and-everything goes for four-plus months until Primary Day. The vetting will continue, with several online forums in the works (details to follow).
As for what the current Assemblymember hopes to accomplish during his waning time in Albany, Gottfried told us he “will be doing everything I can to pass the New York Health Act, which is my bill to create a single-payer system.” Asked not what accounts for his dozens of reelections but, rather, his willingness to return to the job year after year, Gottfried´s answer was swift and studied.
“Well,” said the man who first campaigned for the job as a 22-year-old, “I realized many, many, many years ago that the Assembly is a place where both in the community and in Albany I can get done a lot of things I really care about—and with some rare distractions, I’ve never really thought of doing anything else. The work that I do is just enormously satisfying and I’ve been enormously lucky in the quality of the people that I’ve had working for me, both in the community and in Albany. Without their help, I would not have been able to accomplish what I’ve done.”
As for the type of person it takes to thrive in this particular elected position, Gottfried got to the meat of the matter, as is his manner of talking turkey. “The legislature is pretty low on glamour,” he noted, “and as a way of life, it is very intrusive. It´s either something you get addicted to or not. It´s not for everybody. So I think the fact that Tony has, over the years, watched me and my colleagues and what our lifestyles are like and what people expect of us—and knowing that, the fact that he still wants to run for the Assembly speaks very highly of him.”
To access Chelsea Community News´Q&A with Tony Simone, click here. Our Q&A with all other candidates in the race can be found by visiting the home page of www.ChelseaCommunityNews.com and accessing the “News” section on the upper left side.
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