The Unity Democratic Club seems to be set heading into primary season later this year. That is except for one important race. That is the state Assembly seat long held by Jeffrey Dinowitz.
Coming out of its first ever endorsement meeting last Thursday Unity Democrats got behind eight candidates except for the one who wants to challenge Dinowitz. That is Lewis Kaminski, an attorney and club member, who failed to get the necessary two-thirds of the votes.
The full list of endorsements include President Joe Biden, state Sens. Gustavo Rivera and Robert Jackson for New York State, Abigail Martin and Ramdat Singh for the 81st Assembly District leaders, Morgan Evers and Aaron Stayman for state committee of the 81st AD and Danielle Guggenheim for state committee of the 78th AD.
“We are thrilled to endorse these outstanding individuals who share our vision for a more inclusive and equitable future,” Club President Betsey Knapp stated Friday. “Their commitment to our community and their proven track record of effective leadership makes them the ideal choices for the upcoming elections. We look forward to supporting and working closely with them as they campaign to advance Democratic Party principles across The Bronx, New York State, and our nation as a whole.”
Thursday’s endorsement meeting was a first for the club, which was created in 2022. Candidates pleaded their case and took questions from members, who were given pink ballots with the names of candidates they could either mark “yes” or “no” for endorsement.
When presenting to members, Kaminski said his goal was to shut down the “machine.”
“I’m running because I can see what I think we all in this room can see,” Kaminski said. “Which is that politics in the North West Bronx feels stuck. We’re stuck with this entrenched sort of dynastic political machine. And that machine is fixated on ideas from 30 years ago They’re fixated on shutting out the voices… and they fight like heck to divide us. What I want to do with this campaign is shut that machine down.”
Kaminski was a policy analyst for several years with Congressman Eliot Engel. He’s also an activist, having raised money for Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union and several Democratic candidates over the last decade. He previously ran against Jeffrey Klein in the state Senate primary in 2018 , but suspended his challenge after Alessandra Biaggi became the more favorable opponent.
Through his campaign he wants to raise taxes on billionaires and huge corporations, he said. One thing he said members could expect from his campaign is to be accountable.
“I’m running against an assembly member who doesn’t seem to super love being held accountable to anything,” Kaminski said. “He’s gotten his ideas from the 1980s and 1990s and he’s doing his thing and you know I think a lot of folks in this room would agree he’s mean about it, right?”
Ultimately. the candidate’s bid for an endorsement did not yield two-thirds of the needed vote. One point of contention by a member was a lack of money raised comparatively to his opponent. Kaminski raised about $20,000 accounting for matching funds, he said, while Dinowitz has raised about $180,000. Kaminski said he is about 50 donations away and $4,000 away from reaching the threshold for matching funds.
The attorney admitted the disclosure form looked like it came from a campaign that hasn’t launched yet. The attorney’s campaign started with a rocky start, as his campaign manager he hired in October had to step down from the role due to a “family tragedy.”
“I’m going to be honest with you, I’m going to vote no for endorsement,” said club member Brett Schneider. “...You have not shown to me the motivation, the heart. You have not put in the effort required yet to run for assembly. You are running against a 30-year-old incumbent who is not easily beaten. He has a lot going for him.”
While Kaminski did not receive the endorsement from the club, several members still expressed interest in helping him out on his campaign. He is also seeking an endorsement from the Working Families Party.
Evers spoke on behalf of Biden, highlighting his leadership through the pandemic, his legislation on the Inflation Reduction Act and bipartisan Infrastructure Act, and his steady support of Israel through the war.
Rivera, the chair of New York State Senate’s Health Committee, highlighted his work on passing the New York Health Act, which provides health insurance for all New York state residents. He also highlighted some bills he’s working on such as a bill to get rid of MLTCS, and also Coverage for All, which seeks to extend the essential plan to undocumented people in the state.
Jackson spotlighted being the chair of the Senate Civil Services and Pensions Committee, and being part of the housing and education committees. He emphasized the importance of the public knowing whom their senators, assembly members and council members are.
Both senators are currently running unopposed and have said they plan on endorsing the Unity Democratic Club’s slate.
Martin, Singh, Evers and Stayman are all running as a team, just as they did in 2022. All of them won their elections then with the exception of Stayman, who lost to Ben Franklin Reform Democratic Club pick Michael Heller. Stayman said one of his takeaways from his loss was the importance of raising money, having already raised more from last time.
“I plan to bring my A-game,” Stayman told members. “I really thought I brought my A-game the way we had last time, but this time we are coming with more time. We’re coming with more preparation.”
Evers said that they have a more concrete plan than the last term, which extends from simply knocking on every door. She also highlighted some of the resolutions she signed as a committee member, including the Renewable Act and Good Cause Eviction.
Singh was asked by one member how he planned to get people out to vote at a time where the Gaza conflict has created division within the Democratic party.
“As the Democratic district leaders, our job and state committee is to make sure that we’re finding common ground between the entire spectrum of democrats,” Singh said. “We’re a very diverse coalition of electorates. We have very liberal to very conservative, so the plan is to make sure we’re finding what’s common ground and what makes us Democrats and also talk about Joe Biden’s record. He’s delivered on climate change, he’s delivered on education, he’s delivered on infrastructure throughout this entire country.”
The team of four is getting ready to petition in February.
“Teamwork makes the dream work and it is not me alone,” Martin said. “I am running with a slate of incredible people that I care very deeply about and are highly intelligent, that are hard workers and we all bring different things to the table. So between (Stayman, Singh and Evers), we all have certain skills and abilities… We have a fundraising plan, we have figured all of that out and we are ready to hit the ground running, activate our volunteers and win across our slates.”
The club also unanimously voted to have a slate of judicial delegates and alternate delegates. The Ben Franklin Club also had an endorsements meeting a day prior to the Unity Dem Club’s but won’t announce results until later.