The electoral thwacking suffered by the handpicked successor to New York State Assembly leader Sheldon Silver looks like the last nail in the coffin of the old Lower East Side political order.
Alice Cancel, a longtime Lower East Side activist who won a special election in April to complete Silver’s forfeited final term, came in fourth in a six-way primary race September 13, netting just 12% of the vote.
The victor, Yuh-Line Niou, has lived in the district for just two years. It’s a sharp departure for the Lower East Side, where the course of politics has long been set by the decades-old friendships and grudges of men and women who have lived in the same Grand Street apartment complex since they were born.
Niou’s victory, achieved with the backing of the progressive Working Families Party, reads as firm rebuttal to efforts by Silver’s allies to hold on to power in the wake of Silver’s ignominious expulsion from the State Assembly.
Silver was convicted of fraud in November and sentenced to 12 years in prison. He is currently appealing his conviction while out on bail.
Silver’s fall came on the heels of the earlier conviction in 2013 of his longtime friend and ally, William Rapfogel, for stealing millions from the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, the charity that Rapfogel ran. When their neighborhood crony the powerful Lower East Side activist Heshy Jacob died in June, it seemed the end of an era dominated by the three men.
Yet Silver’s old crew still hoped to retain influence even after their leaders had fallen. Judy Rapfogel, William Rapfogel’s wife and Silver’s longtime top aide, backed the selection of Alice Cancel to run on the Democratic ticket in the April special election. Cancel had spent 25 years as a district leader in the neighborhood, and had the support of Silver’s old political club.
The Observer reported that Cancel praised Silver at the February party meeting where she won the Democratic party line. “I can only say he did wonderful things in our district,” she said of Silver, according to the paper.
With her easy victory over Niou in the special election, where Niou ran on the Working Families line, Cancel seemed at least to have a shot at victory on September 13.
Yet she faced a crowded field of candidates, including longtime Sheldon Silver antagonist Paul Newell, a young district leader who was the race’s only Jewish contender. Newell came in third, with 16% of the turnout, besting Cancel by 312 votes. After years spent harrying Silver, he was unable to muster enough of the reform vote, despite a bevy of endorsements.
In a series of concession tweets, Cancel congratulated Liou. “This has been an incredible journey, one that could not have been done without the support of my husband, my family and my supporters,” Cancel wrote.
Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @joshnathankazis.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.