Feld Officially Enters NY Senate Race Against Oppenheimer

Westchester GOP & Conservative Parties Endorse Feld

by Judy Silberstein

(May 28, 2008) It’s official: Larchmont’s mayor, Liz Feld, 47, announced she is running for NY Senate in the 37th District against 12-term incumbent Suzi Oppenheimer, 73. (See: Mayor Feld Weighing Run Against Senator Oppenheimer.) The Westchester Republican and Conservative parties each endorsed Ms. Feld; she accepted the GOP nod at their convention on Tuesday, May 27.

In an echo of the US presidential race, both the challenger and the incumbent are positioning themselves as the candidate for change in Albany.

“Albany’s irresponsible spending habits are squeezing the life out of Westchester County and middle-class families cannot take it anymore,” said Ms. Feld, who was elected to her second term as mayor without opposition this March. (See: VOL Election: Small Turnout, Long Wait for Results.) “As a mother, a mayor, and a Westchester taxpayer, I can no longer wait for the promised reforms in state government that never come, so today I announce my candidacy for state senate to do something about it,” she declared on Tuesday.

Ms. Oppenheimer responded, “For 79 years (with the exception of 9 months in the 1960s) the Republicans have controlled the Senate – and my opponent is the chosen candidate of Joe Bruno, the Republican head of the Senate. She will represent the status quo.” Ms. Oppenheimer added, “Real change and real reform will come in November when the Democrats are expected to win the Senate.”

Currently, the Democrats are in control of the governorship and the Assembly (by a healthy 106 to 42). The Republicans hold 32 seats to the Democrats 30 in the Senate. In the 37th Senate District, as of March, 2008, Democrats outnumber Republicans by 75,386* to 45,077 but an additional 42,656 are unaffiliated with any party. (*Figures corrected on October 8, 2008)

Ms. Feld sees herself as a “moderate and independent-minded Republican” in the mold of NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg. She said, “people of all parties want property tax relief; they want their share of school aid, and they want bi-partisan solutions.” Effecting change will require "fresh enthusiasm and a sense of urgency in Albany," she said, but "we cannot keep electing the same people to public office year after year after year and expect different results.”

Ms. Oppenheimer, a former mayor of Mamaroneck Village, is stressing her “very significant leadership role” as chair of the Senate Education Committee, which she would assume if the Democrats win the majority. “Most people around the state feel we will take the majority – it’s not pie in the sky – it will happen,” she said. As chair, she would “try to protect Westchester as far as I can,” while still carrying out the state mandate, looking to alternative ways to finance education and working closely to limit mandates that are not funded.

Local Support for the Candidates

In Larchmont, Ms. Feld has an interesting relationship with the two major political parties. Elected first as a Larchmont Village trustee in 2000 with the support of the local Republican Party establishment, she went on to challenge the incumbent Republican mayor, Ken Bialo, losing the GOP endorsement but winning the election in 2006. (Feld-Kolbert-Millstein Coalition Sweeps Village Election.)

Since that election, the Larchmont Village Republican Party infrastructure has collapsed. The last caucus was attended by only a handful of voters and she was the only nominee. Although not endorsed by the Democrats, they also did not run anyone against her. The Democrats’ two candidates for trustee, Marlene Kolbert and Jim Millstein, ran with Ms. Feld on a coalition ticket, as they had in 2006.

Fellow Republican Phil Johanson, who was briefly the chair of the Larchmont GOP, resigned recently, citing business and personal pressures. He enthusiastically endorsed Ms. Feld: “I think she’s done a great job. If she can make progress up the chain, then that’s just great.”

Not surprisingly, Mr. Bialo expressed greater enthusiasm for Ms. Oppenheimer than for Ms. Feld. “In my 15 years as an elected official dealing with Senator Suzi Oppenheimer from across the political aisle, I have found her to be a person of integrity, who is respectful and open to different points of view,” he commented by e-mail. “On the other side, it is hard to see how loyal Republicans could support Liz Noyer Feld,” he added, noting the demise of the previously “robust” local party.

On the Larchmont Village board, Ms. Feld serves with four trustees who ran as Democrats - two who are supporting her and two who are remaining noncommittal at this point. “I do support her for this,” said Trustee Richard Ward. “I think she’s been very effective as mayor and I believe she offers the 37th District an immense reservoir of drive and creativity. “ Trustee Jim Millstein was equally straight forward: “Yes she definitely has my support,” he said. “Based on her track record I think she’s well deserving. Anyone who stands up and says ‘Albany needs changing and I’m going to change it,’ either has a screw loose or deserves our support – or both.”

Trustee Anne McAndrews noted, “I work with Liz day-to-day on Village business, but I’m a registered Democrat, so I’ll be on the sidelines for this race.” Trustee Marlene Kolbert would only say: “Liz has been an outstanding mayor of Larchmont and Suzi has been my friend and colleague for over 30 years.”

Over on the Mamaroneck Town Board, Supervisor Valerie O’Keeffe, a Republican was also keeping her comments to a minimum: “As is my custom I plan to support the Republican nominee.”

Councilman David Fishman, a Democrat, was more forthcoming in his support of Ms. Feld. “As I’ve had my initial year here working in municipal service, I’ve encountered no one with more energy for the issues that I care about than Liz.” His issues included promoting property revaluation, consolidation of services to improve efficiencies and commitment to young athletes, as evidenced by developments in Flint Park.

Ms. Oppenheimer had the unqualified backing of the other three Democratic council members. “I’m definitely supporting Suzi – of course I support Suzi,” said Councilwoman Phyllis Wittner. “In my mind it’s a no brainer,” said Mr. Odierna. “Suzie has earned our respect and continued support.”

"I lean towards Suzi because she’s a Democrat and I hope the Senate will become a Democratic majority,” said Councilwoman Nancy Seligson. “I think that would be really beneficial to the state, so we could make some real headway.”

Supporters of both candidates were also enthusiastic at the idea of a hotly contested election.

“Suzi hasn’t had an opponent for a long time, so it’s probably a good opportunity for her, in a way,” said Ms. Seligson. “It’s always good for the electorate to have a choice," said Mr. Odierna.

Mr. Millstein noted, "At a minimum the people of Southern Westchester will have an opportunity to have someone focus their attention on how badly screwed up Albany is.”