Earlier this year, the great Tom Robbins reported on deep-pocketed charter school advocates essentially sponsoring primary challenges to three Democratic state senators “whose tough talk during the debate rubbed charter advocates the wrong way,” though they eventually did vote for a bill that worked out to charters’ advantage (having gotten concessions about auditing and conflicts of interest inserted into the bill). The piece begins at a meet-and-greet sponsored by a rich millionaire, at which candidates are introduced to the hedge-fund millionaires largely behind the candidacy of Reshma Saujani, the former finance-industry professional running as a “fresh face” against Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, of the Upper East Side.
The three Senators who offended the charter schools were Harlem’s pretty great Bill Perkins (also a persuasive, vociferous opponent of Atlantic Yards), who chaired hearings on the subject and wondered aloud, “What about the 97 percent of kids in regular schools? Where’s the energy and attention for them?”; my state senator, the distinguished Velmanette Montgomery (asked why he was gunning for the state senate, the opponent recruited to run against her told Robbins only said, “It’s time for new, energetic leadership), and Shirley Huntley, of Queens, who also voted against gay marriage (her opponent, previously a candidate for City Council, also received support from gay advocacy groups).
Yesterday, in the Democratic primary, Perkins defeated former Hillary Clinton aide Basil Smikle with more than three quarters of the vote. Montgomery defeated lawyer Mark Pollard, garnering more than four fifths of the vote. Huntley won with slightly less than three quarters of the vote.
Much of this, of course, can be attributed to apathetic primary voters (and nonvoters) going with the familiar names. But that system, at least, rewards people committed enough to their causes to start at the bottom of the political food chain and work their way up. Good luck, rich hedge fund managers, finding an acquaintance who wants to start on the community board and then maybe, ten years later, be your advocate in the State House of Representatives.