Rivals trade barbs in contested senate race

Challenger Oliver Koppell (center) sparred with the incumbent, Senator Jeff Klein (r), in a live debate Monday, August 25 on BronxNet’s BronxTalk, moderated by Gary Axelbank (l).
Courtesy BronxNet

The barbs flew between incumbent state senator Jeff Klein and challenger Oliver Koppell this week in two televised debates, on the eve of a testy Democratic Primary in a district that covers a large swath of the Bronx, and even some parts of Westchester.

Klein, a veteran state senator, and Koppell, a former assemblyman and more recently city councilman, grappled Monday, August 25 on BronxNet’s BronxTalk, hosted by Gary Axelbank.The two Bronx political titans went tete a tete again the next night on NY1’s “Inside City Hall.”

The public will decide Tuesday, September 9 whether Klein will win the democratic nomination — and effectively the entire contest, since there are no other candidates for the seat — to remain state senator in a district spanning east Bronx areas like Throggs Neck and Morris Park, south to Hunts Point and Soundview, west to Riverdale and north into part of Mount Vernon.

Tussle on development

Klein went on the offensive on local issues in both debates, claiming that he had “cleaned up Koppell’s mess” by halting two unwanted neighborhood developments in Riverdale, where Koppell had served as a councilman.

The state senator helped stop a home for the mentally ill from coming into north Riverdale, and engineered a state law that will at least delay a massive Montefiore healthcare complex from being built in south Riverdale.

Klein ripped Koppell for being out of touch with the district in those cases.

He also brought up a recent video, recorded and leaked to the press by a Klein aide, in which Koppell appears to ask Morris Parkers to be “more broad-minded.”

“Why do you keep criticizing the constituents you hope to represent?” asked Klein on NY1.

Koppell responded by saying that the “broad-minded” comments were directed at a specific group of people who were criticizing an immigrant scholarship program.

The former city councilman claimed to be a big fan of the people — and food — of Morris Park.

“I happen to go to Morris Park all the time,” exclaimed Koppell. I go to restaurants there, I love the atmosphere there.”

State-wide slams

Koppell was on the offensive from the get-go Monday night on BronxNet. He rehashed his characterization of Klein as “betraying” the Democratic Party by heading a new bipartisan state governent entity, dubbed the Independent Democratic Conference.

Koppell slammed Klein and his IDC for failing to pass progressive Democratic bills like the DREAM Act, which would ease the path to citizenship for immigrants, while instead empowering the Republicans.

Klein deflected the barbs by focusing on the accomplishments the state government has made with him as IDC leader and senate co-majority leader.

“We should be credited with making government work again,” said Klein, citing a comprehensive gun control bill he engineered, called the SAFE ACT, among other legislative achievements.

Klein in command

Klein has a massive lead in campaign fundraising, as well as endorsements from nearly every labor union and nearly everyone from the city and borough political establishment.

Some of those endorsements — including from Mayor deBlasio and Gov. Cuomo — came after Klein and his IDC pledged in June to vote in line with the Democrats.

Koppell credited his campaign with making that happen — and claimed it a victory by forcing Klein to align with the Democrats, even though a Koppell win at the polls would be a huge surprise.

“I’ve already won this contest,” he told Axelbank. “Because even if I don’t win this primary, which I intend to do, he’s got to vote with the Democrats and put the Dems in the Majority.”

Reach Reporter Ben Kochman at (718) 742–3394. E-mail him at bkoch‌man@c‌ngloc‌al.com. Follow him on Twitter @benkochman.

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