Michael Den Dekker’s first order of business after being tapped by Queens Democrats to replace long-time Assemblyman Ivan Lafayette, was to call his wife, Angela, to say, “Our life as we know it is over.”
In only a week’s time, Den Dekker went from a mostly-unknown district leader and co-founder of the Wood-Heights Democratic Club to a front-running candidate to replace Lafayette in the 34th Assembly District.
Den Dekker’s meteoric rise came after Lafayette announced he would take his name off the ballot after 32 years in the Assembly. Queens Democrats held a vacancy committee meeting last week, with many expecting Lafayette’s chief-of-staff, Maureen Allen, to get the nod.
“I came into the meeting ready to vote for Maureen,” Den Dekker said, but he never got the chance. After four hours, Den Dekker emerged the favorite candidate to represent primarily Jackson Heights and parts of Woodside and East Elmhurst.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed that I wasn’t picked,” Allen said. “But I support Michael 100 percent.”
If elected, Den Dekker will be the only union man to represent his district in Albany. Born in Jackson Heights, the 47-year-old is a 13-year veteran of the Department of Sanitation and an active union member.
And he’s not likely to stray far from his working-class roots in Albany. “What people don’t understand is how schoolteachers, firemen and sanitation guys struggle to afford to live here,” he said. “We’re in danger of pushing them out.”
Undeterred by his lack of experience —beside an aborted campaign for Helen Sears’ City Council seat in 2001, he’s never run for public office — Den Dekker plans to consult his Queens peers in the Assembly about negotiating the blind alleys and pitfalls of Albany politics.
He mentioned Assemblywoman Margaret Markey of Elmhurst and Assemblyman Mark Weprin of Bayside as possible mentors if he goes on to win September’s primary against likely Democratic challenger, Marlene Tapper.
“With his experience in city goverment, his activities in the political world… Michael Den Deckerwould bring a uniqueperspective to the Legislature,” Markey said.
If he does win, don’t expect Den Dekker to be star-struck by the big-wigs of state politics — he’s already shared the big screen with Denzel Washington.
Not just a sanitation worker, district organizer and neophyte political candidate, but an actor to boot, Den Dekker got his first big break working opposite Washington in Spike Lee’s 2006 film, “Inside Man.”
And though he gave the veteran movie director glowing reviews, Den Dekker was tight lipped about another big name used to calling the shots, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
For now, Den Dekker’s focus was on sealing the deal made at Queens Democratic Party headquarters last Friday. “I’m going to have to work,” Den Dekker said. “Nothing is going to be handed to me.”