3-way state senate race - Councilmen Felder, Stewart challenge Parker for post

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With the filing of petitions in the 21st Senatorial District by midnight on July 10, battle lines appear to be drawn for a three-way race for the seat currently held by State Senator Kevin Parker.

Parker, who was first elected in 2002, after the district was created, will likely face off against two other elected officials: City Councilmember Simcha Felder and City Councilmember Kendall Stewart.

Both Felder and Stewart came into office as a result of the 2001 election; as a result, both are term-limited, and must leave their council seats at the end of 2009.

Felder filed the most signatures – a total of 5,167, well in excess of the 1,000 needed to snag a place on the ballot. Stewart filed 4,587 and Parker about 5,000. The high number of signatures decreases the likelihood that there will be challenges that could result in a candidate being thrown off the ballot.

“We’re all political veterans,” acknowledged Parker. “We all know how to get on the ballot. Given the limited resources and time, the time is best spent making voter contacts rather than getting rid of opponents.”

Parker has always faced a challenge in his re-election bids. After winning a five-way primary in 2002 against former City Councilmember Noach Dear, political consultant Omar Boucher, Democratic District Leader Lori Knipel and realtor Harry Kaloshi, he subsequently faced Dear – who won a judgeship last year – in two more races.

In 2004, Parker narrowly won a three-way contest, with activist Wellington Sharpe the third candidate. In 2006, Parker had a more decisive victory in a two-way race against Dear.

He said he expected no different result in 2008. Asked to handicap the race, Parker replied, succinctly, “I win.”

Asked to elaborate, he had this to say. “This race is about a proven leader, myself, with a record of accomplishment, a record of making change in government versus two guys who are looking for a job.

“People in this district need and deserve someone with vision, energy and integrity,” Parker went on. “That’s what my campaign will be about. It’s been a winning strategy in the last three primaries. I expect it to be no different in this race.”

In addition, Parker pointed out his breadth of institutional support – not only the backing of the Kings County Democratic Party, but also the backing of the Working Families Party, and two key unions, the United Federation of Teachers and 1199, the health care workers union.

Not surprisingly, both Stewart and Felder also made the case for their own successful candidacies.

“I think I’ll win the race,” remarked Stewart, who has been dogged in recent months by the troubles besetting two former aides, who were indicted in March for allegedly siphoning city funding designated for not-for-profit groups to their own use.

‘I’m looking at it from the point of view that my district is 90 to 95 percent within the senate district, and is 55 percent of the senate district,” Stewart explained. The 45 percent of the senate district outside Stewart’s council district is, he said, “on the west side. I think Simcha will do well there, but not well enough. We’re going to make inroads in that area also.

“The fact is,” Stewart continued, “that we’ve been performing, doing the right thing, bringing back resources to the district. Money can’t win this race. I feel comfortable. The current senator has been missing in action, so we’ll see how he fares on that. On the other hand, Simcha has maybe 15 percent of the district, and I don’t think that can cut it.”

Felder, however, had a vastly different take on the race. Looking back to the three-way race in 2004 in which Parker only won by a few hundred votes, he said, “I think this is the Rocky 2 race.

“You have an Orthodox Jewish candidate,” Felder went on. “Kevin Parker is the incumbent and you have Kendall Stewart, who I think is a stronger candidate than Sharpe, despite some problems in his office, because he’s been around. He’s got some semblance of incumbency in parts of the district like I have. The difference is I’ve proved through six and a half years in the council that I’m determined to serve and work with every part of my district. I don’t carry the baggage of ill feeling that I think was a problem for Noach.”

In addition, said Felder, he expects to benefit from the support of Mayor Michael Bloomberg who, he pointed out, carried every assembly district within the 21st council district in the last election.

“I think I have to work very hard, and I intend to work very hard to convince people throughout the district that they are going to get their money’s worth,” Felder added.

But, he said, the race is, “Also about change. This is the guy’s third term. Are people saying, we haven’t gotten the resources we deserve? Are people so fed up that frustration and anger have overpowered the anxiety that comes with change?” For those who want change, he added, the choice would be either him or Stewart.

The end of the petitioning process closes one chapter of the election saga and opens another, as the candidates try to make their case to the general public.

“I expect it’s going to be an eventful summer,” Parker noted dryly. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity to put my ideas and accomplishments before the voters, and I invite both Kendall and Simcha to my victory party on the night of September 9th.”

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