On Wednesday night in Greenpoint, a crowd of Brooklyn reformers stood outside the Smolenski Democratic Club, the somewhat rundown headquarters of the New Kings Democrats, waiting for someone to unlock the door.
Keys to the club were stuck on a broken down L train with New Kings’ member and district leader Lincoln Restler, who eventually showed up in a cab, and let the crowd in.
The group was meeting to decide its endorsement in the upcoming special election for the 54th Assembly District, which was recently vacated by Darryl Towns, who left to join the Cuomo administration—setting off the latest proxy battle over political power in Brooklyn.
On hand was Towns’ sister, Deidra—a candidate for the seat–and their father, longtime Congressman Ed Towns, who Restler acknowledged from the podium.
“I’m here with Deidra Towns, who happens to be my daughter,” the elder Towns told the crowd, before praising Restler.
The race has become something of a referendum on the power of the Towns’ family, with Deidra running against Rafael Espinal, the chief of staff to City Councilman Erik Dilan, who is closely tied to the Brooklyn Democratic chair, Vito Lopez. Last month, Ed Towns lost his own campaign for district leader to Dilan.
“I used to not like politics because my father was never home,” said Deidra, who is running her first campaign. But she also put some distance between her father and her own campaign, saying she still had to knock on doors since “nobody can give me a slot in the Assembly.” She mentioned that she disagreed with her father about Atlantic Yards.
The New Kings have long been hostile to Lopez’s power, and Espinal declined to attend on the grounds that the group’s questionnaire was “prejudicial.”
Jesus Gonzalez, a third—and so far unofficial–candidate, also attended. Gonzalez has worked as a community organizer at Make the Road for 13 years, a group closely associated with New Kings and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez. Make the Road recently registered a 501 (c)(4) Action Fund that will allow it to engage more directly in politics, separate from its non-profit organization.
Gonzalez has thrown something of a wrench into the proxy battle Lopez and Towns, and there is some concern among Espinal supporters that he could siphon Latino votes. According to his questionnaire, Gonzalez has raised $26,000, to Deidra Towns’ $50,000.
“I know people might be saying, ‘It looks like he is wearing his father’s suit, looks like he just learned how to put it on yesterday” said Gonzalez, who is 26, and emphasized that his appeal was “fresh blood.”
(The mosquitos buzzing around the un-air conditioned room seemed to agree.)
Amongst Gonzalez’s qualifications, he listed that his father was the local Icee man when he was growing up in Bushwick.
Espinal is expected to be chosen by the county committee for the Democratic line, with Gonzalez pursuing the Working Family Party line, and Deidra Towns running on another line.