Leroy Comrie confirmed the worst-kept secret on Queens politics on Monday when he formally announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for the state’s 14th Senate District, the seat held by embattled Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis).
Comrie, speaking in a telephone interview on Tuesday, said the move was prompted both by people actively urging him to take on Smith, and a bit of homesickness for the hands-on legislative process.
“I liked being deputy borough president, and I’m thankful to [Borough President] Melinda Katz,” he said. “I’m sorry I have to do it. I like the legislation process, the idea of going to Albany with the trust and respect of the people to get things done. That has to be re-established.”
Comrie joins a field of Democratic challengers that already includes attorneys Munir Avery of Queens Village and Clyde Vanel of Cambria Heights; and U.S. Navy veteran Bernadette Semple of Laurelton.
The winner of the Democratic primary, right now scheduled for September, would be considered a virtual lock to win the general election in November.
The district includes Southest Queens, running west from the Cross Island Parkway. It goes south to the Belt Parkway and stays mostly south of the Grand Central parkway. It reaches west into Jamaica and portions of Briarwood, Forest Hills and Kew Gardens.
Comrie believes the Senate post will require, among other things, the ability to build consensus both in the district and within a fractious Democratic caucus.
“That’s one of my skill sets,” he said.
Katz spokesman Michael Scholl said Comrie resigned late last week but would stay on in the role of special assistant to the borough president.
Comrie said he has been delighted by the support that he already has gotten both in the district and from fellow Democrats in Albany.
His candidacy already has been endorsed by party leaders, including Congressman Joe Crowley (D-Bronx, Queens), who also is the Queens County Democratic chairman.
He also did not feel the need to mention Smith, who is under federal indictment, by name to attack him with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer in an initial statement issued on Monday.
“It simply means that people are ready for a change,” Comrie said in the statement. “The 14th District will not be sidelined waiting for a leader to do the right thing.”
Crowley said Comrie, who was a popular three-term Councilman from Southeast Queens before being named deputy borough president, has been a leader on education, senior citizen issues and job creation.
“For decades, Leroy Comrie has been a dedicated public servant who has delivered for his community and the people of Queens,” Crowley said. “Now, we need Leroy in Albany delivering for us on the issues that matter most.”
Comrie first came to prominence as a member of the former District 29 school board prior to the establishment of the city’s community education councils.
He also served on the staff of former Councilman Archie Spigner.
In the Council, Comrie rose to the rank of deputy majority leader and head of the Queens delegation.
He spent his last four years as the Finance Committee chairman before being forced out of office by term limits.
Comrie personally reached out to recruit former transit union leader Daneek Miller to run for his seat on the Council.
Miller emerged from a crowded primary field last September to a walkover victory in last November’s general election.
“Southeast Queens will reap the benefits when Leroy Comrie enters the state Senate,” Miller said a statement. “Leroy enjoys the respect of all his colleagues in government to deliver what Southeast Queens needs from Albany.”
A voicemail message left with Smith’s campaign was not returned on Monday.
Smith was indicted in April 2013 on federal corruption charges that he attempted to bribe his way onto the Republican ballot for mayor last year. Smith, former Republican Councilman Dan Halloran and former Queens GOP Vice Chairman Vincent Tabone will go to trial June 2.
If he is convicted, Smith would be kicked out of the Senate. His attempt to delay the trial until after the Democratic primary was denied.
Smith, the former Senate majority leader, incurred the wrath of the Democratic Party and some constituents for switching to the Independent Democratic Conference last year.
The group had been formed earlier by breakaway Democrats in protest of Smith’s actions as majority leader.
While Democrats have a numerical majority in the Senate, IDC members have a power-sharing agreement with Senate Republicans, headed by Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Nassau).
Shortly after his arrest, Smith was kicked out of the IDC and stripped of his committee assignments by Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), leader of the IDC.