As a councilman and assemblyman, Oliver Koppell helped build the Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club into one of the more vaunted Democratic organizations in the city. But last night, the club endorsed Mr. Koppell’s bitter rival.
In a vote of 96-to-38, the club instead chose to back State Senator Jeff Klein, who has infuriated many Democrats as the leader of the Independent Democratic Conference–a group of breakaway Democrats who run the state Senate in a power-sharing deal with Republicans.
But in an interview, Mr. Koppell, a past president of the organization, said he was not surprised by the the club’s decision, though the decision still stung.
“I wasn’t surprised. I had hoped it wouldn’t happen and I think it’s very regrettable that it did. And in my opinion it’s a betrayal of the principles the club was founded on,” Mr. Koppell told the Observer. “I expected more from them, absolutely.”
Single club endorsements rarely tilt races and it’s unlikely the Benjamin Franklin endorsement will have any considerable impact on the race. But under Mr. Koppell’s wing, the club had flourished in the politically-active Riverdale area, lending a stronger than average petitioning and get-out-the-vote operation to its chosen candidates.
After key elected officials in the area, including Councilman Andrew Cohen and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, endorsed Mr. Klein last week, some observers saw the club’s vote as a foregone conclusion.
Mr. Koppell seemed to agree.
“With the opposition of Jeff Dinowitz and Andrew Cohen, it was not surprising. It was heartwarming to have the strong support of some of the most principled longtime members of the club,” he said. “I think there are many people who want to see Jeff Klein replaced so I think there’s a lot of sentiment out there and I don’t think the defeat of my candidacy at the club is all that significant in terms of the ultimate vote in the primary.”
Mr. Koppell has repeatedly attacked Mr. Klein for his leadership role with the IDC, arguing that Mr. Klein’s power-sharing agreement stifles liberal legislation. But local Democratic elected officials and institutions, including the Bronx Democratic Party, have sided with Mr. Klein so far.
With his million-dollar war chest and growing organized labor support, Mr. Klein will not be easy to oust. Mr. Koppell said today his goal is to raise half-a-million dollars to defeat Mr. Klein.
In a statement, Mr. Klein said he was gratified to have the Benjamin Franklin club’s endorsement.
“I’m honored to win the endorsement of the esteemed Ben Franklin Club. I look forward to working with its membership, and the leaders who represent the 81st Assembly District on Democratic issues well into the future,” Mr. Klein said.