Rajkumar backed by women’s group; Convention idea floated

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON  |  As the political maneuvering continues in the effort to select a Democratic candidate to run for Sheldon Silver’s former Assembly seat in an upcoming special election, a group of prominent women this week launched a Women for Jenifer committee to support District Leader Jenifer Rajkumar’s potential candidacy for the seat.

A week earlier, State Democratic Committeeman John Quinn, a leading member of the Lower East Side Democratic Club, told The Villager he is pushing the novel idea of a “community convention” at which all potential candidates could be vetted and have their say.

Meanwhile, Sean Sweeney, a leader of the Downtown Independent Democrats club, of which Rajkumar is a member, said word has it that Chinatown political organizations are planning to champion a Chinese-American candidate for the open 65th Assembly District seat.

A national coalition of women leaders, Women for Jenifer includes Ninfa Segarra, a former New York City deputy mayor who lives in Lower Manhattan; Michigan Congressmember Kristy Pagan; Siobhan “Sam” Bennett, former president and C.E.O. of the Women’s Campaign Fund and She Should Run; Demie Kurz, a professor and co-director of women’s studies at the University of Pennsylvania, who was once Rajkumar’s professor; Jodi L. Ochstein of Hillary for America; and Monica F. Guerra, co-founder of WIN.NYC. 

If elected, Rajkumar would be the first South Asian member of the state Legislature.

“From Alice Paul to Indira Gandhi to Eleanor Roosevelt to Golda Meir to Malala Yousafzai to Hillary Clinton to Jenifer Rajkumar, the message stays the same: Empowerment, equality and perseverance,” said Ochstein. “Throughout history, women like Jenifer have undauntingly shown leadership by sticking to their principles, doing what’s best for their entire community, and never backing down from a fight. Jenifer is a daughter of immigrants and has intimate knowledge and a deep appreciation for the unique challenges and opportunities women of diverse backgrounds encounter every day.”

Rajkumar’s co-district leader, Paul Newell, has also expressed interest in the open seat.

Meanwhile, Quinn said, “I’m looking to have a convention — for leaders in the community who actually do things in the community. Jenifer and Paul actually agree with this,” he said, adding that Sweeney does, too.

“We don’t want a smoke-filled room,” Quinn stressed of the process by which the Democratic County Committee will pick the sole Democratic candidate to run in April in the special election. “We want this to be totally aboveboard. There would be speeches. There would be a format that would be set up.”

However, Sweeney didn’t sound too high on the convention idea.

“I am unsure what it will accomplish,” he said, adding, “There is now a Chinatown candidate — some unknown person — being pushed by lobbyist Chung Seto and Councilmember Margaret Chin. So, I don’t see what a convention would accomplish.”

Sweeney said he asked Quinn if the convention would replace the county committee process, and Quinn said no, it would be separate, and the 190 committee members would indeed pick the nominee.

“It seems a good idea, but all I foresee is a lot of posturing,” Sweeney said. “Whoever comes out of the County Committee meeting — likely in January — will surely win the special election in April. But as sure as night follows day, that person will have at least one challenger in September. Of that I am certain.”

Sweeney conceded that, as Quinn has said, most of the votes will come from the East Side part of the district. D.I.D., on the other hand, largely covers other parts of the Lower Manhattan district — Battery Park City, the Financial District and the West Side — though does also cover “Hell Square” and some other East Side spots.

Other clubs involved in picking the Democratic nominee will be Chinatown’s United Democratic Organization and former Speaker Silver’s Truman Club, based along Grand St. D.I.D. and L.E.S.D.C. each have about 30 percent of the 65th A.D.’s election districts, while Truman and U.D.O. split the remaining 40 percent about equally.

Asked if she backed Quinn’s convention idea, Rajkumar said, “Great. I will participate in any forum that is thrown. My guess is that it will be challenging to get candidates — all of whom are unannounced — to participate in it at this early stage, and with the holiday season.  

“Perhaps you should wait on this until Governor Cuomo officially calls the special election, and until the date of the County Committee vote is set. A forum could then be sometime in January.”

Newell did not respond to a request for comment.

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