Daniel Squadron, who won an election to the State Senate at age 27 and seemed to personify good government ethos at its core, announced in a Daily News op-ed this morning he was resigning from office. Few saw Squadron’s announcement coming.
Squadron said he had grown disillusioned with trying to reform Albany. It didn’t help that, as a Democrat, he sat in a chamber controlled by Republicans and a band of rogue Democrats known as the Independent Democratic Conference.
“I have seen it thwarted by a sliver of heavily invested special interests. In the state Senate, for example, Democrats have repeatedly been denied control of the chamber by cynical political deals, despite winning an electoral majority,” Squadron wrote. “And the status quo has proven extraordinarily durable: It barely shuddered when the leaders of both legislative chambers were convicted of corruption.”
Indeed, despite the corruption convictions of the Assembly speaker and Senate majority leader—one already overturned on appeal, another looking like it could break that way—nothing has changed. Squadron, now 37, says he is leaving the Senate to join a still-nebulous national campaign effort with entrepreneur Adam Pritzker and Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University to fight back against the influence of the Koch Brothers.
Squadron has long wanted out of Albany. In 2013, he ran for public advocate and lost in the runoff to Letitia James. Before unseating a longtime incumbent in his district in 2008, Squadron was a top aide to Senator Chuck Schumer, helping him write a bromide-filled book about how Democrats won congressional majorities in 2006.
Few doubt Squadron’s intelligence or sincerity. He seemed to always want to do the right thing. He fought hard to close the egregious loophole in state election law that allows corporations to exceed donation limits by forming as many LLC's as they want.
Yet his departure from the legislature is hypocritical, because the very anti-democratic machine forces Squadron railed against will determine who replaces him in Albany.
Squadron’s district is funky. It spans brownstone Brooklyn and lower Manhattan, roping in the neighborhoods of Brooklyn Heights, Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Tribeca, the Financial District, Chinatown and the Lower East Side. Squadron is a Brooklyn resident but Manhattan comprises more of his district.
Squadron announced his decision long after the petitioning process for candidates to get on the ballot ended in June, so there will be no open primary for his seat. Instead, a special election will be held in November to coincide with the general election, with the Democratic and Republican parties each nominating a candidate.
Since Squadron’s district is almost entirely Democratic, that Democrat is guaranteed victory. He or she will not have to compete in an election that matters and will get to serve at least two years in the Senate. Given how often we re-elect incumbents, this anointed successor will likely get many years in the state legislature.
Party bosses play an outsized role in this kind of special election because it’s up to local county committee members in the district, usually loyal to the party leader, to decide on a nominee. In Manhattan, the party is weaker and less centralized; the party chairman Keith Wright isn’t exactly Vladmir Putin. About 60 percent of the county committee members of Squadron’s district live in Manhattan, though, giving Wright’s borough more weight than Brooklyn.
Political watchers expect Wright, who thinks nothing of working for one of the most powerful lobbying firms in the city and running the Manhattan party at the same time, to play a significant role, but local power brokers could make their own moves. One of them happens to be Sheldon Silver, that disgraced former Assembly speaker from the Lower East Side who irked Squadron with his sleaze. There are enough of the few hundred county committee members who are loyal to Silver (10 percent, in one close watcher’s estimation). Silver is now a free man—and therefore free to whip some votes.
Already, current elected officials like Manhattan Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh are throwing their hats into the ring for party bosses to consider. Had Squadron decided to leave around March or April, the voters of his district could have had a say in their future. But, as Squadron learned over a decade, that’s not how things usually work in Albany.
CORRECTION: The initial version of this story named Keith Wright as a "registered lobbyist," when he is in fact not registered as one. Wright works for the lobbying firm, doing "strategy" and advising clients.
[UPDATE] Around 4 p.m., Squadron released a letter he sent to New York County Democratic Committee Chair Keith Wright and Kings County Democratic Committee Chair Frank Seddio. Acknowledging that the process for filling his seat "is not what it should be," he urges them to allow Brooklyn's committee members to have input in the process of choosing
"To disenfranchise Brooklynites would be unfair and undemocratic," Squadron writes. "The Party rules leave these decisions to you."