Oliver Koppell on Bid Against Jeff Klein: ‘I See a Path to Victory Here’

Oliver Koppell. (Photo: NYC Council/William Alatriste)

Oliver Koppell. (Photo: NYC Council/William Alatriste)

Oliver Koppell, a former councilman, assemblyman and attorney general, announced this morning that he will challenge State Senator Jeff Klein.

The long-anticipated campaign launch, coming after a months of indecision and repeated delays, opens a new and high-profile front in the battle for control of the State Senate.

“I see a path to victory here. I see a chance to get the Senate Democrats in the majority where they ought to be,” Mr. Koppell told the Observer in an interview this morning. “It’s clear there’s a strong groundswell of support in the district, not withstanding that Jeff Klein has tried to ingratiate himself in the community.”

“It’s not a race to perpetuate the political career of Oliver Koppell,” he added.

State Senator Jeff Klein. (Photo: Getty)

State Senator Jeff Klein. (Photo: Getty)

Mr. Koppell has repeatedly assailed Mr. Klein, a senate majority leader, for leaving the mainline Democrats in 2012 to form the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference. Like other left-leaning Democrats, Mr. Koppell has argued that Mr. Klein betrayed the party and stifled liberal priorities by governing the senate in partnership with the Republican Party.

Today, he slammed Mr. Klein for the racial make-up of the majority coalition: every member of the IDC is white and Mr. Koppell charged that Mr. Klein’s power-sharing arrangement was robbing minority groups of clout.

“If the Democrats were in the majority, there would be an African-American majority leader in Andrea Stewart-Cousins,” Mr. Koppell said. “No minority member has a senate committee chair in Albany. It’s a disgrace, disempowering the minority population.”

Liberal groups like the Daily Kos website and Tenants PAC, a tenants’ rights political action committee, have been pushing Mr. Koppell to challenge Mr. Klein for his Bronx-based seat. As as longtime elected official in the affluent, western portion of the district, Mr. Koppell is a credible challenger with high name recognition that could potentially oust Mr. Klein and help put the Senate Democrats in the majority again.

Mr. Koppell said he is counting on the full support of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee and already hired the Parkside Group, the top campaign consultant for the Senate Democrats, to steer his bid.

But Mr. Koppell will need to overcome many hurdles to make his return to elected office a reality. Mr. Klein is a prolific fund-raiser who enjoys close relationships with many of the elected officials in the Bronx, including Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and Assemblyman Carl Heastie, the chair of the Bronx Democratic Party. Even pols in Mr. Koppell’s old district, like his successor Councilman Andrew Cohen and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, have strong ties to both Mr. Koppell and Mr. Klein.

Major labor unions, who could provide significant boosts to Mr. Koppell’s campaign, also may not rush to the former councilman. Mr. Koppell admitted some have been “reluctant” to back him so far and at least one labor leader, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union President Stuart Appelbaum, already endorsed Mr. Klein.

Mr. Klein welcomed the challenge.

“Senator Jeff Klein looks forward to a spirited debate of ideas and is eager to address his record of legislative accomplishments and his vision for the people of his district and for the future of this state,” said Candice Giove, a spokeswoman for Mr. Klein.

Crain’s New York first reported last week that Mr. Koppell would challenge Mr. Klein.