The battle between incumbent state Sen. Jeff Klein and recently term-limited Councilman G. Oliver Koppell promises to be a bruising one.
Often more mud is slung in intensely local elections than in statewide or national campaigns.
Both men have close ties to the members of the Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club and with party members throughout the Bronx. No doubt, feelings will be hurt and tempers will be frayed even by those who declare neutrality in the race.
In its 64-year-long history, The Press has never made an endorsement, preferring to present as detailed a picture as we can of the candidates and the issues and let the wise voters of Riverdale decide. But we believe that contested elections are better than uncontested ones.
Elections focus our attention on important issues and it is good to consider which candidate can best make a difference once in office.
Mr. Koppell has a long and honorable record of public service, including a short stint as New York State Attorney General and a lengthy stay in the state Assembly. He was even pressed into service as President of Community School Board 10.
Mr. Klein has proved adept at steering through the shoals of Albany politics, rising to the level of Co-Majority Leader of the Senate.
It is that title, and the way in which it was won, that has so rankled the 73-year-old Mr. Koppell that he is willing to come out of retirement to challenge a man 20 years his junior.
Mr. Koppell is not alone in his disgruntlement that Mr. Klein put together a small coalition of breakaway Democrats to form the Independent Democratic Coalition (IDC). To make matters worse, in their eyes, the IDC made a pact with the devil, Republican leader Dean Skelos, to share power in the senate.
A MoveOn.org petition, signed by thousands of Democratic faithful from around the country, urged Mr. Koppell to run, and he believes his campaign coffers will be filled by donors who agree with them.
So, the IDC promises to be the central bone of contention in the race, but Mr. Klein makes no apologies for its formation. “In the past four years, we’ve moved past partisan gridlock,” he told The Press, “and cleared the way for the passage of core Democratic legislation to be signed into law.”
He includes four on-time budgets, the marriage equality act, a minimum wage increase and the toughest gun control law in the nation among his achievements, in addition to funding for universal pre-kindergarten and renewed middle-income housing legislation.
But Mr. Koppell points to a number of failed legislative efforts, like the Dream Act, which he believes could have been passed if the Democrats controlled the senate. He also expresses outrage at what he calls the “disempowerment of minority members” of the Senate on Klein’s watch.
He insists his campaign is not just about what Mr. Klein isn’t doing, but about the experience and track record he can bring to the office as an environmentalist, an advocate for the elderly and for mental health and for the people of Riverdale.
But he is not without critics of his own. One prominent former office holder told The Press,”Oliver never brought home the bacon, and he foolishly made powerful enemies like Mayor Bloomberg.”
His age is also a question, although, by all accounts, he is in excellent health.
As the race begins, we hope that both candidates will take the high road and won’t let the mud obscure the real issues.