Polling a Sheldon Silver Primary?

Last month, a market-research firm called my Lower East Side apartment to gauge my support for Paul Newell.

I admitted that I had never heard Newell’s name before, and the caller quickly explained that Newell will challenge my state assemblyman–Speaker Sheldon Silver–in the Democratic primary in September.

The caller told me Newell is 32, worked as a community organizer and lives on the Lower East Side. Then he presented positive statements about Newell and Silver, followed by negative statements about Silver. He asked me to say if the statements would make me “more likely” or “less likely” to vote for that candidate. Then it was over, but the origin of the call was a mystery.

Silver has been in the State Assembly since 1976, became Speaker in 1994, and hasn’t had a primary challenger in several years. His campaign committee has almost $3 million. Newell’s committee has less than $20,000. The cost of hiring a polling firm is several thousand dollars.

I called Silver’s office to ask if he had commissioned the poll. Silver got on the phone with me, and in response to my question, he said only that he does a lot of polling in the city and state and couldn’t be sure if he did the poll in question. He said he had never heard of the polling company, Pacific Crest Research, which, as The Brooklyn Paper reported, conducted pro-Atlantic Yards polls in 2005. But he did say that Newell might have come up in a poll he commissioned.

“I don’t poll about Paul Newell,” Silver said. “His name might have been mentioned in a poll.”

When asked if he was worried about Newell, Silver responded: “I’m always confident that my record on education, rebuilding ground zero and transportation is unmatched by any public official. I think my record speaks for itself.”

When I spoke to Newell, he said he heard about the poll from several people, and he has no doubt that Silver commissioned the poll to see how vulnerable he is.

Newell said that he believed Silver’s campaign may have been reacting to some 6,000 fliers he and his supporters handed out to voters in the 64th Assembly District on Super Tuesday. From what he heard about the poll, Newell said, the positives the callers are presenting come almost verbatim from the flier.

“My gut reaction [to the poll] is that I can’t believe he’s calling this many voters and telling them my positives and his negatives,” Newell said. “I thought it meant that he’s taking the race seriously, but I might have liked if the giant had been sleeping for a few more months.”

Newell said that he didn’t have the money to hire a polling company. His campaign had $18,000 at the time of its latest filing. He said since January his campaign has raised $10,000 through online donations.

“There is no doubt in my mind that Sheldon Silver commissioned the poll,” Newell said. “It was either me or him, and it wasn’t me.”

The district does have a third candidate for September’s primary in attorney, Luke Henry. But Henry has less money than Newell–his campaign committee submitted an in-lieu-of statement in January, which means it had less than $1,000 in receipts or expenditures.

Newell, who is a delegate for Barack Obama from New York’s 12th Congressional District, recently made news when he asked Hillary Clinton to drop out. He admits that taking down Silver would be difficult.

Newell got the idea to run against Silver in 2004, when he went to vote against him in the primary and the polling station was closed due to a lack of contested elections. On his way home, he met a woman who said that he should run against Silver. He laughed it off. But four years later, he’s campaigning for office.

“I’ve been considering it for about four years,” Newell said. “It’s been increasingly clear that Albany is broken. [Silver] just doesn’t symbolize what’s broken with Albany. He is what’s broken.”