BY ROSS BARKAN 3/18 11:07AM
In one of the most high-profile potential primary contests this year, ex-Councilman Oliver Koppell is waiting until the budget season is over before making a final decision on whether he’ll challenge State Senator Jeff Klein.
In an interview with the Observer this morning, Mr. Koppell, sounding very much like a candidate, said he wants “eliminate someone who has betrayed the Democratic Party and progressive principles,” but first needs to see how those principles fare in the state budget, due April 1. Mr. Klein leads the breakaway faction of Democrats allied with Republicans in his chamber.
“I want to see how the budget comes out. I want to see the budget deliberations, see how various interest groups look at things after this budget,” Mr. Koppell said. “I have to evaluate whether I am able to put together the kind of campaign that can win. I’m interested in defeating Jeff Klein. It’s not my personal ambition. I wish to eliminate someone who has betrayed the Democratic Party and progressive principles.”
Mr. Koppell’s latest beef with Mr. Klein is the State Senate’s vote yesterday against the Dream Act, which would provide college financial assistance to undocumented students. Mr. Klein’s Independent Democratic Conference and most of the traditional Democratic conference voted for the bill, but the legislation came up two votes short with unanimous Republican opposition.
In a fiery statement this morning, Mr. Koppell blamed Mr. Klein for the bill’s failure.
“Yesterday, Jeff Klein orchestrated a tragic performance in the State Senate. Arranging to put the DREAM Act on the floor with no advanced notice at a time when a potential Republican supporter was absent assured the bill’s defeat. He once again empowered Republican State Senators to block progressive legislation,” Mr. Koppell said. “Jeff Klein is playing with the future of thousands of state residents for political gain. Imagine the heartbreak and disappointment this latest ploy is causing. The time has come to end Jeff Klein’s manipulation of the political process.”
Mr. Klein and his supporters, however, argued that the fact there even was a vote represented a success for their bipartisan coalition. Under agreed-upon rules, legislation only reaches the floor if Mr. Klein and Dean Skelos, the leader of the Republican faction, agree. IDC State Senator David Valesky reportedly said the vote showed “the strongest day for this coalition yet.”
Mr. Koppell, a former assemblyman, councilman and attorney general, has already met with senate Democrats about launching a bid against Mr. Klein. But speaking with the Observer, he said he would step aside if another top recruit, such as Bronx Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz, were to entry the fray.
“If Jeff Dinowitz decides he wants to run, I’ll support him,” Mr. Koppell continued. “It doesn’t look like there’s anybody else out there, though. I’m not going to go on a kamikaze mission–I feel there’s considerable support out there.”
While Mr. Koppell appears eager to take on Mr. Klein, district insiders aren’t sure he will undertake the challenge, let alone beat Mr. Klein, who sits on a million dollar war chest and remains popular in a district that spans parts of the Bronx and Westchester.
Democrats will be forced to defend several vulnerable seats around the state this year while also simultaneously trying to make gains in open swing districts, especially on Long Island. But Mr. Koppell believes he is up to the challenge of defeating Mr. Klein–that is, if he decides to run.
“Of course, I’m a good campaigner,” he said. “I’ll campaign. I know it’ll be tough campaign against me, so what?”
Mr. Klein did not immediately return a request for comment.