It’s hard not to notice Dan Squadron these days. Voters are hearing the voice of Michael Bloomberg. They’re seeing Chuck Schumer’s name. And more than a few have had their hands shaken by Anthony Weiner.
The 28-year-old Democratic State Senate candidate, who has never held public office and whose experience has been largely under Schumer’s tutelage, is looking to unseat 30-year incumbent Marty Connor of the Lower East Side.
Under normal circumstances, it would be an uphill battle–an insurgent candidate against a well-situated incumbent. But Squadron has built a campaign formidable enough to make it hard to identify which candidate is the underdog.
At the intersection of Grand Street and Ridge Street yesterday afternoon, Squadron, in a dress shirt, open collar and closely trimmed beard, shook hands with passers by. He had with a folding table stationed at the corner, a volunteer holding a sign, and nearly all of Grand Street dotted with his campaign’s white and gold signs.
In addition to an aggressive efforts to be visible, Squadron has the aforementioned support of his boss, which has, at a minimum, made him a kosher challenger, helping him earn the support of other well-known politicians, several unions, and at least one Democratic club against the established incumbent.
It’s not that Connor’s campaign hasn’t benefited at all from his long tenure in Albany. His conference members, who ousted him as State Senate minority leader in a coup less than a decade ago, have all endorsed him. Five members of Congress whose districts overlap with Connor’s have, too.
Still, on Grand Street, it was hard to see the fruits of those endorsements. A Connor campaign aide did not return an email asking for a list of campaign activities yesterday.
It may be some consolation to Connor, ironically, that in this left-leaning, progressive district in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn along the East River, being the apparent underdog has its appeal for voters. One person walking by the scene, for example, expressed unsolicited displeasure with the Squadron campaign for doing such an effective job of plastering the area with campaign signs. Another man wondered whose "pocket" the candidate is in.
Still, on balance, it’s Squadron who profits from the inside-outside, old-new, Albany-not-Albany battle of perceptions. Though both candidates are fairly liberal and are very close on almost all issues, Connor is the one stuck with the Albany Taint.
The Brooklyn Paper wrote last week that "Connor is a tired figure who conceded to our editorial board that he would not even be running for re-election if he didn’t think that Democrats had a chance to retake the Senate." The editorial warned that if Connor was re-elected, voters would "be certain to get another two years of worn-out representation."
In addition to the backing he’s gotten from officials, Squadron has been endorsed by The New York Times and the Sierra Club as a potential agent of much-needed change in the capital. Robo-calls featuring Bloomberg’s endorsement of Squadron have been reaching voters for about a week, and Schumer has been on the hustings for his former aide since back in April.
Unusually for a challenger, Squadron has the upper hand financially as well. Squadron has raised $263,546.80, and has spent $94,081.68, according to his latest financial statement. Connor raised $107,723.15 and spent $58,934.32. Connor has a second committee, which was active earlier this year and paid salaries for some campaign aides. That second committee owes $44,705,43, according to their latest statement in July.
It’s famously difficult to unseat an Albany incumbent, but as a campaign worker out in Brooklyn who is not associated with either Squadron or Connor told me this weekend, "Squadron is everywhere."
That might be enough.