In 2020, former District 12 Councilmember Andy King seemed to be persona non grata in the city’s political circles. King, a Democrat, was the first sitting councilmember to be expelled from council by his colleagues — in a 48-2 vote — on the basis of four charges including harassment, discrimination and conflicts of interest.
However, a ruling from a New York State Supreme Court judge may grant King an opportunity to regain his seat in this year’s June 27 Democratic primary.
King, 61, raised eyebrows when he filed to run for his old northeast Bronx seat, currently held by 35-year-old Kevin Riley, as many were under the assumption that since King had already served two successive terms, he could not seek a third one. Members of the City Council are elected to four-year terms and face term limits after serving two consecutive terms.
The city’s Board of Elections (BOE) concurred and scratched King’s name off the ballot on Wednesday. In their estimation, the earliest King would have been allowed to run is 2025, but the judge’s decision on Thursday puts a 2023 run now in play.
Judge Lucy Billings says that King’s expulsion in 2020 prevented him from serving out all four years of his second term. Additionally, Billings notes the action taken by the City Council against King, in the form of an expulsion, doesn’t carry the same weight as a removal from office.
A removal of a councilmember from office must come, according to Billings and the city charter, by a “superior officer or body.” Those “superior” groups include the mayor, public advocate, borough president, comptroller and police commissioner, but not a city councilmember.
“Because he did not resign and was not removed from that office in 2020, but was expelled from that office, for the reasons explained above, the court grants the petition,” Billings stated in court documents.
While the judge’s ruling stipulates that the Board of Elections must put King’s name back on the ballot, the BOE is appealing the ruling, which is scheduled to be heard on Tuesday. A BOE spokesperson told the Bronx Times that they expect a “very quick decision.”
The Bronx Times reached out to both King and Riley for comment, and is awaiting a response.
In a statement to City & State, King said that the judge’s ruling is “one step closer in answering the call from the residents of the 12th Council district to serve them once again.”
A co-founder of the Bronx Youth Empowerment Program, King won office in 2012 via special election, following a corruption scandal that plagued his predecessor Larry Seabrook. Seabrook had beaten King in the 2009 Democratic primary.
King won his first full term in 2013 by capturing 96% of the vote in the general election, and then secured reelection to a second term in 2017 with 93%.
This year’s District 12 primary, as of Friday, includes Riley, who won a 2020 special election following King’s ouster that year, a perennial candidate in Pamela Hamilton-Johnson, a political unknown in Aisha Ahmed and King.
A Bronx Democratic Party insider told the Bronx Times that party leaders are “shocked” by the ruling. However, the source noted that the incumbent Riley has the “institutional and fundraising” support necessary to ward off any challenge from King.
Riley has a major fundraising advantage over King — $37,330 to $1,735 — according to campaign finance filings.
In an interesting wrinkle, Riley was also endorsed in the 2020 special election by the health care workers union 1199 SEIU, the same union whose former executive president was King’s wife Neva Shillingford-King.
The union intends to support Riley in his 2023 reelection efforts.
“Council member Kevin Riley has been a tremendous voice for working people in the Bronx and a steadfast advocate for quality healthcare and good jobs,” said Dell Smitherman, 1199SEIU’s downstate political director. “1199SEIU is proud endorse to Kevin Riley for re-election and continuing the effort to promote health, equity, and justice for all in New York.”
One sitting Bronx councilmember told the Bronx Times that it’s “appalling” that King is allowed to run, given his history of “abusing power.” Voters like Williamsbridge’s Angela Jones also aren’t too keen on King’s potential candidacy, and believe he shouldn’t be easily forgiven for the transgressions that led to his expulsion.
Those transgressions include a former staffer accusing King of firing her after refusing his alleged sexual advances, and multiple instances of using campaign funds for personal use in 2012 and 2015. The council’s Ethics Committee had begun investigating King in early 2017, alleging that he “engaged in gender-based harassment” regarding a photo accidentally posted to his Twitter account by a staffer that was intended for their personal account in June 2015.
“Why should he get a second chance to do more harm?” said Jones. “I think we have a fine councilmember, and even if (Riley) wasn’t what the district wanted going forward, there’s 100 or so people I could think of better for this seat than King.”
The Bronx’s only majority-Black district, Council District 12 — which includes the neighborhoods of Eastchester, Baychester, Williamsbridge, Co-op City and a slice of Wakefield — has seen its fair share of controversy over the years.
King’s predecessor, Seabrook, was indicted by the federal government on corruption charges in 2012 and removed from the City Council before serving three years in prison.
James Watson, a Co-op City resident who supported King in 2013 and then again in 2017, is willing to give him a second chance, and let District 12 voters decide his fate on June 27.
“The voters will decide whether’s he’s grown as a person or not,” said Watson. “I think he’s a good leader, and I think I would vote for him again.”
Reach Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes