Incumbency’s Quick Troubles

In Assembly only six months, Friedman tarred as insider by Kavanagh

With the Democratic primary election for Assembly in the East Side’s 74th District less than a week away, most are calling it a two-person race between the incumbent, Sylva Friedman, and ambitious challenger Brian Kavanagh.

Friedman is the slightest of incumbents, though, taking office after winning a special election this March in the wake of Steve Sanders’ retirement after 28 years. Next Tuesday represents Friedman’s first test in a Democratic primary.

Friedman enjoys the lion’s share of political support, but Kavanagh earned the endorsement of The New York Times.

The two have similar positions on most issues, such as affordable housing and the state allocating the city its fair share of education funding. That hasn’t stopped them from duking it out in a campaign that has gotten personal.

Kavanagh charges Friedman was “selected,” not elected, by “party bosses,” since only about 80 political club members determined the party’s Democratic nominee for the March special election. In turn, Friedman says Kavanagh could well have thrown his hat in the ring too for that special election, but didn’t because he hadn’t done the grassroots groundwork she has over the years. Unlike her, Kavanagh has never served on a local community board, she noted.

“When I campaign, people say, ‘I remember you when you were chairperson of the [Community Board 6] Housing Committee’ or ‘I remember you when you were chairperson of the Homeless Committee in 1988 and we were working on improving the 30th Street men’s shelter,’” Friedman said. “I mean, I’ve been around.”

Friedman, 67, charges that Kavanagh, 40, has tried to make an issue of her age. She points to his early campaign materials, which touted him as a “new generation” of leadership in Albany. She also said Sanders, in breaking it to her that he was going to endorse Kavanagh, sent her an e-mail warning that an Assembly race involves a lot of “standing out in the heat and cold.”

“Ageism is as bad as racism and sexism,” Friedman fumed.

But Kavanagh vehemently denies that he has stooped to ageism and says he, in fact, promptly removed all references to “energy” in his campaign materials after this became an issue. He explained that the generational reference was to Sanders’ long tenure, not Friedman’s age.

“She is trying to tar me with ageism,” he said.

Kavanagh’s new campaign materials say he will be independent while charging that Friedman has fast become an Albany insider, cozying up to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

“You could see it in the evolution of her stump speech,” he said. “She says how she thought she wouldn’t be able to get along with Shelly Silver. But it’s quite the opposite… She’s voting in lockstep with Silver.”

Friedman laughed off Kavanagh’s attacks, saying it’s far from the truth. He’s mounting a negative campaign, she said, and trying to paint her as an insider is just his latest tactic.

“That’s another ridiculous line,” she said. “I’ve been in Albany four months.”

One recent Kavanagh mailer to voters showed three male hands with cigars, implying that Friedman was engaging in deals in the smoke-filled backrooms of legend.

“Did you see the one with the cigars and no heads?” Friedman asked. “We were trying to figure out which one was me. That was really ridiculous.”

Friedman takes credit for helping push for an extension on the statute of limitations on civil charges in rape, and Timothy’s Law, which requires insurers that cover physical health to also cover mental health. She’s also backing a bill that would make sex-trafficking a crime.

As for Kavanagh getting the Times’ endorsement, Friedman retorted, “The Times is opposed to the tenants’ issues that I’ve been fighting for for years. They’re opposed to rent regulation. They think that the market will work it out. I disagree.”

Kavanagh slammed Friedman, along with Esther Yang, another candidate in the race, for challenging the petitions of a fourth candidate, Juan Pagan, trying to knock him off the ballot. But Friedman said it was State Committeeman Michael Farrin of Coalition for a District Alternative who formally made the objections to Pagan’s petitions.

“CoDA has a long history of challenging [petitions],” Friedman said. “That was not our doing — we are opposed to that.”

But Kavanagh noted that CoDA is supporting Friedman.

“I believe it was Sylvia Friedman, because Michael Farrin is connected to Sylvia Friedman — it was Sylvia Friedman’s team,” said Pagan of the challenge, which he defeated in court.

“It is what it is,” said Yang. “He’s on the ballot, and I still think I’m the best candidate for the job.”

Kavanagh and Friedman are also each claiming support in the district’s housing projects. Kavanagh said he has signed statements from the tenant association presidents of every major project saying they support him. But Friedman responded that’s untrue, according to District Leader Anthony Feliciano, who can speak for all the projects south of 14th Street. The district stretches from the Lower East Side to the United Nations area.

Silver, 62, is backing Friedman.

“I would like Sylvia to win, yes,” he said. “I think that in a short time, she has become an effective legislator. I think Mr. Kavanagh’s criticisms are inappropriate.”

Yang and Pagan, both first-time political candidates, say the Shared Parenting Bill spurred them to enter the race—but for very different reasons. Yang, a yoga teacher who lives in Tudor City near the U.N., said her experience in a bitter custody with her former husband has made her oppose the Shared Parenting Bill.

Pagan, head of the Baruch Houses Community Center on the Lower East Side and a resident of the Jacob Riis Houses in the East Village, said he supports the Shared Parenting Bill because he daily sees the problems of “underparented” youth — such as drugs and teen pregnancy — in the community. Current laws encourage breaking up families, he said, while the Shared Parenting Bill would insure both parents have access to their children.

Sean Sweeney, president of Downtown Independent Democrats, said the impact of the New York Times endorsement is debatable.

“[Kavanagh] has The New York Times’ endorsement. No one knows what that does,” Sweeney said. “Maybe five or 10 percent [difference] in Stuyvesant Town. On the Lower East Side, it will be less important, like one percent.”