Embattled state Sen. Ada Smith has another challenger for her seat this fall, one who might get the backing of powerful allies in Southeast Queens.
Shirley Huntley, the former president of School Board 28, announced her intention to run for Smith’s 10th Senatorial District seat, as three key Democratic Party district leaders refused to endorse Smith at the party’s nominating meeting Monday.
As the only candidate nominated, Smith won the party’s endorsement with a majority of the vote. But longtime Southeast Queens powerbroker and former councilman Archie Spigner, along with two other Democratic district leaders, Jacqueline Boyce and Henry McCoy, abstained from the vote.
“I have no comment on the vote,” Spigner said afterward. “I abstained because it was the right vote at the time.”
McCoy said he refused to vote for Smith because of the senator’s erratic behavior, including a recent confrontation with a staff member that led to a misdemeanor assault charge.
“She doesn’t reflect upon the best we could send from our community to represent us,” he said.
McCoy added that the recent reprimand Smith received from Senate Minority Leader David Paterson would make it difficult for her to negotiate with the senate leadership for funds for the district that encompasses Jamaica, South Jamaica, Springfield Gardens, Laurelton, Broad Channel and parts of St. Albans, Ozone Park and Richmond Hill.
“She has had a number of problems. I don’t think they have helped her deliver for the community,” McCoy said.
Joe Reubens, a political consultant for Smith, said that the abstentions were not a concern. “The endorsement speaks for itself. The senator has a lot of support and the vote reflects how hard she’s been working for her district,” he said.
Neither Spigner nor McCoy endorsed Huntley, but the longtime community activist revealed her intentions to run shortly after the vote.
Huntley is well known in Southeast Queens after serving on the school board for 13 years and as head of Borough President Helen Marshall’s Community Education Council for District 28. She said several unnamed, but well placed people asked her to run. The senator’s recent legal problems also played a factor in her decision to run.
“It was with her difficulties that people came to me. I have had no problems with her in the past. I saw this as a seat that could be winnable,” she added.
Education, senior rights, health care and housing would be among the issues she would concentrate on once the race heats up in June as candidates start collecting petition signatures. She will hold a fundraiser on June 7.
Huntley has lived in Jamaica for more than 30 years and has been active in community affairs for several decades. She served as the education head for the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and as a Democratic Party delegate to the 2004 Presidential Convention.
As school board president, she helped a school in Kew Gardens secure an annex for an early childhood center and pushed for the successful namings of the Ruby S. Couche and the Arthur Ashe schools in Jamaica.
“The community wants people who will listen to them. I will campaign on behalf of what I can produce, not about what others haven’t done or can’t do. I am excited to push my program,” she said.
Huntley’s entrance into the race brings the number of announced Smith challengers to three. Liz Bishop Goldsmith, an anti gun advocate, and Joseph Marthone, a Rochdale Village activist, have already declared their candidacies. Despite the growing number of challengers, Reubens said Smith will keep the race focused on her accomplishments.
“The senator has done a lot of hard work for the last 18 years and that’s what this campaign is going to be about,” he said.
As Huntley enters the fray, Bishop Goldsmith criticized Democratic party leaders this week for holding the endorsement election without other candidates being present. She said she was told the meeting started at 10 a.m. on Monday, when in fact it started much earlier in the day. Although she did not expect to be endorsed, she wanted to see how the process worked firsthand.
“I would love to know if they did a poll with the residents before they voted. Knowing Southeast Queens politics, I expected it, but I wish the leaders had a little more backbone,” she added.
Bishop Goldsmith also hinted this week that she and her staff have been targeted since she announced her candidacy earlier this year. She said her tires have been slashed three times—once by an ice pick.
“A lot of strange things have been happening since I announced. Politics can be a dirty game out here, but I’m not into playing games. I’m in this to win it,” she said.
For her part, Huntley pledged to remain civil during the campaign. “I have no problems with Liz Goldsmith and I have no problems with the senator. If no one creates any problems, there won’t be any,” she said.