Two Staten Island Democrats are mounting challenges against State Sen. Diane Savino in the June primary, looking to follow the insurgents who swept her GOP friendly allies out of power in 2018.

“There’s a need that isn’t being met,” said Brandon Stradford, who plans to run for the seat representing a district that includes parts of Staten Island and southern Brooklyn.

Savino is one of just two members still standing from the Independent Democratic Conference, a faction that helped the Republican Party control the state Senate. The other survivor is Sen. David Carlucci of Rockland County.

Six of Savino’s IDC colleagues, including conference leader Jeff Klein, were defeated by challengers in 2018.

Brandon Stradford launched his campaign for State Senate with a health fair on Jan. 25 in a New Brighton church on Staten Island. Credit: Courtesy of Stradford for Senate

Now Savino’s opponents are pursuing the support of some of the same grassroots groups that backed winning candidates last time around, including Julia Salazar (D-Brooklyn), Zellnor Myrie (D-Brooklyn), Rachel May (D-Syracuse), Robert Jackson (D-Harlem), Jessica Ramos (D-Queens) John Liu (D-Queens) — and Alessandra Biaggi (D-The Bronx), who beat Klein.

A spokesperson for Biaggi’s reelection campaign said that she isn’t supporting a challenge against Savino. The others did not respond to inquiries from THE CITY.

Stradford and fellow candidate Rajiv Gowda agree that Savino isn’t doing enough for the district.

“We need a voice, someone to say, ‘Hey, this is what you can demand,’” said Stradford, a human resources professional. “But you can only demand better if you know that there is better.”

Stradford, who earned 12% of the vote against Savino in 2018, kicked off his campaign in January by hosting a health fair for about 20 supporters in New Brighton. He contends that Savino doesn’t pay enough attention to her district, which covers the North Shore of Staten Island and several southern Brooklyn neighborhoods.

The New Brighton resident says addressing inequities in health care and garnering more state dollars for city schools and public housing are among his top priorities. Staten Island doesn’t have a public hospital, he noted.

Stradford only started campaigning in June when he last challenged Savino for a September primary, and says he can build a larger coalition this time.

“I went ahead and did it in 2018 and I didn’t know how,” said Stradford.

Seeking Yes From No IDC NY

Gowda, a retired Port Richmond civil engineer and former president of Staten Island’s Community Education Council, argues that Savino’s former association with the Independent Democratic Conference, which brokered power with Republicans, should be disqualifying.

Gowda, who won 6% of the vote in a 2009 Democratic primary race for City Council, is running on a few moonshot ideas, such as passing a massive infrastructure package to reconfigure the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and building a network of fast ferries.

Savino challenger Rajiv Gowda. Credit: Courtesy of Gowda for Senate

“It’s the same problems, same issues, nothing has been done,” said Gowda, adding, “Something needs to be done now.”

But both Stradford and Gowda want backing from liberal groups that proved effective at organizing volunteers in state races. While both men say that they aren’t seeking support from the Democratic Socialists of America, No IDC NY confirmed that the duo has expressed interest in notching its endorsement.

The No IDC group has not yet sent out candidate surveys. Another group, True Blue NY, is waiting for the petitioning process to conclude before backing a candidate.

“True Blue NY is continuing in our stated mission to build progressive power in Albany. We’re in the process of vetting candidates in dozens of races across the state, and watching who’s actually going to be on the ballot before giving specific candidates support,” Susan Martin, co-leader of True Blue NY, said in a statement. “We’ll conclude our work in the next month or so.”

Both candidates also said they are pursuing an endorsement from the Working Families Party. Monica Klein, a WFP spokesperson, said the party is still sorting out its endorsements in state races.

Jasi Robinson, a Port Richmond activist who earned endorsements of anti-IDC grassroots groups and 20% of the primary vote in 2018, is skipping this cycle and plans to run for the seat in 2022.

Savino’s Union Ties

Staten Island political observers say that Stradford and Gowda have an uphill battle.

Paul Casali, a Staten Island-based political consultant, said that progressive legislation authored by Savino — such as marriage equality and legalizing medical marijuana — helps insulate her from criticism.

“She is very popular and would be difficult to beat, as has been proven in the past,” said Casali, of Casali-Keller Consulting. “If anti-IDC sentiment couldn’t beat Senator Savino in 2018, I don’t think it will be a significant factor in 2020.”

Savino, who was politically active in Social Service Employees Union Local 371 before holding public office, also still has near universal support among labor unions.

“It’s not brownstone Brooklyn and it’s not progressive Brooklyn, it’s union Brooklyn,” said Richard Flanagan, a professor of political science at the College of Staten Island. “Being in the IDC didn’t ruin Savino’s union credentials at all.”

A spokesperson for Savino told THE CITY in a statement that she stands on her record.

“Senator Savino is proud of her record of accomplishments in the Senate, where she has written and chaptered 124 bills and counting,” said Tom Musich, a spokesperson for Savino’s campaign. “She will work with anyone to deliver for the people of this district and has been proud to be the standard-bearer for working people across the state.”

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