New York State Senate
Facing Low Turnout, Dinowitz Games Out Klein vs. Koppell
Polling sites are barren and the streets mostly devoid of foot traffic in several neighborhoods of the 34th Senate district in the Bronx, where state Senate Majority Co-Leader Jeff Klein hopes to fend off a challenge from former state Attorney General and New York City Councilman Oliver Koppell.
In Morris Park, a Klein stronghold and home to his campaign headquarters, voter turnout was paltry at several polling sites City & State visited, even though Klein's face was plastered across several local restaurants, coffee shops and pizzerias.
In front of a tent draped with an enormous poster of Klein set up a mere two blocks from the polling station at PS 108, a group of elder women spoke glowingly about Klein's contributions to the neighborhood.
"He works for the senior citizens. He got rents frozen in apartment buildings and took them to a Broadway show in Westchester," said Maxine, a 74-year-old retiree who worked for the Board of Education.
"Don't forget the barbecue in Orchard Beach," said Jeanette, a 71-year-old retiree.
Indeed, the east Bronx portion of the district is an echo chamber of Klein campaign mailers and television advertisements, with supporters rattling off his accomplishments, both locally and legislatively. But Bronx political sources say that in order for Klein to hang onto his seat, he will have to siphon off votes from parts of the district that might view Koppell more favorably, specifically the northwest Bronx that overlaps Koppell's old Council district.
Which brings us to the corner of 236th Street and Independence Avenue in Riverdale, outside Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy, a middle school and high school where voters mosied into the building to fill out their ballots—albeit also in very small numbers.
Standing outside of the school was Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, a Klein supporter, but also a politician with an innate sense of voter turnout and the demographics of the district. City & State spoke with Dinowitz for a brief interview about where Klein will need to have success to hang onto his seat.
City & State: Turnout seems to be exceedingly low today, even by Primary Day standards. What are you seeing and hearing on the ground in other parts of the district?
Jeffrey Dinowitz: Yes, it’s very slow. The governor’s race is not a serious race, nobody takes [Democratic gubernatorial candidate] Zephyr Teachout seriously and therefore it’s not a hot race. There haven’t been millions of dollars in TV ads or anything. The top of the ticket is what generally drives the turnout. To the extent that people are coming out here, I think the vast majority are coming out because of the state Senate primary, and that’s not a negative comment on any of the gubernatorial candidates so much as people don’t think it’s a serious race.
C&S: You've been camped out on this corner supporting Sen. Klein. Have you gotten a sense of which way people are leaning between the two candidates?
JD: Most people don’t really tell you. This location should be the heart of Oliver Koppel’s strength, but whoever comes out ahead in this poll will not come out ahead by a lot. It’s hard to tell, but Oliver probably needs to win this poll by four-to-one and that’s not happening. He’s not going to win three-to-one, not gonna win two-to-one. He might not win it at all. We’ll find out in a few hours, but I would say it’s split.
C&S: Give us the district’s lay of the land. Where are the respective strongholds, and what areas are up for grabs?
JD: The east Bronx will certainly be a Klein stronghold, it remains to be seen whether Riverdale will be a Koppell stronghold or not. It depends on what you consider strong. I imagine [Koppell] will do better in Riverdale than he will in east Bronx, certainly. Where we are right now is up for grabs, that's one of the reasons I’m here. A lot of people I’ve spoken to, most people have their minds made up. I think there are some people who don’t have their minds made up, maybe they’re actually coming out to vote for governor.
C&S: Why are you supporting Sen. Klein?
JD: He’s worked hard for the community, on neighborhood issues and on legislative issues, it’s simple as that. As an incumbent, when somebody in office is doing a good job, I believe you should re-elect them.