Top Brooklyn Democrat Backs Indicted State Senator's Reelection Bid

Top Brooklyn Democrat Backs Indicted State Senator's Reelection Bid

Top Brooklyn Democrat Backs Indicted State Senator's Reelection Bid
July 23, 2014

State Sen. John Sampson’s political future has looked bleak ever since he was indicted on multiple federal corruption charges, but a powerful segment of the Brooklyn Democratic establishment is doing all it can to keep him in office.

The chairman of the Kings County Democratic Committee is strongly backing Sampson’s bid for reelection despite the serious legal problems hanging over the veteran Brooklyn senator. One Brooklyn political insider even accused the county Democratic organization of spearheading an effort to toss one of Sampson’s primary challengers, Dell Smitherman, from the ballot.

Frank Seddio, the Brooklyn Democratic chairman, acknowledged his support for Sampson and the challenge to Smitherman’s petitions. But Seddio insisted that his involvement was only in his capacity as a head of the Thomas Jefferson Club, a powerful southern Brooklyn political club of which Sampson is a longtime member.

“I’m the local district leader in this area. John Sampson represents almost my entire political district, 59 percent of my district, and he’s been our senator for the last 18 years,” Seddio said. “So our club is supporting him. The county (Democratic committee) doesn’t take positions on these types of things.”

Multiple sources with knowledge of the inner workings of Brooklyn politics described the situation differently, linking Seddio's support for Sampson directly to the official Brooklyn party organization.

“Frank Seddio, the chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, is taking two races very seriously and as a test of his leadership,” said the Brooklyn political insider. “The first is the recently vacated seat of Eric Adams, and the second is the Sampson seat. He is doing everything he can … to ensure that John Sampson is protected and reelected.”

Sampson’s attorney, Bernard "Mitch" Alter, filed the challenge to hundreds of petitions submitted by the Smitherman campaign, Seddio said. That challenge, if upheld, would leave Smitherman with only about 260 viable signatures, he added, well short of the 1,000 needed to get on the ballot.

“The Board of Elections will now be reviewing it and seeing how many of those are actually accurate, but we are very confident that that number is pretty close to what Mr. Smitherman will wind up with,” Seddio said. “Anything can happen, but a lot of people worked very hard to review the petitions.”

The challenges are being appealed by the Smitherman campaign, and a final determination will be made by the New York City Board of Elections. Smitherman told City & State that his campaign collected close to 4,000 signatures, which it weeded through before actually submitting about 3,000. Sampson’s campaign, Smitherman added, was wasting the board’s time with broad objections to nearly all of the signatures with little to no evidence of actual errors.

“We are getting challenged, and so far the specs that have been laid in opposition to our petitioners are frivolous,” said Smitherman, a former political coordinator with 1199 SEIU. “They basically tried to discount all of our signatures. … We’re confident we will be on the ballot.”

Sampson was indicted in 2013 on multiple corruption charges, including embezzling more than $400,000 from foreclosure sales, siphoning some of it into a 2005 run for district attorney and various attempts to cover his tracks. In another indictment earlier this year, Sampson was accused of lying to federal agents about his secret partnership in a liquor store after telling a Senate staffer to lobby state officials to reduce the store’s debt. A lawyer for Sampson has denied the charges.

Sampson, the former leader of the state Senate Democrats, was expelled from the conference. However, Seddio said it would be hasty to cut ties with Sampson, noting that Sampson is innocent until proven guilty and disputing that any alleged wrongdoing was tied to Sampson's role as an elected official. 

 “I can’t imagine walking away from a man who I’ve known for 18 years, who has done a wonderful job as a state senator for us, and has been very helpful to everyone,” Seddio said. “And, by the way, after numerous investigations, was not charged with any issue relating to his Senate position, taking nothing away from the fact that those charges are serious. They should be contemplated and he has a right to have his day in court.”

In the wake of the corruption charges, the lawmaker’s 2014 campaign can use all the support it can get. The senator reported raising more than $34,000 in his latest campaign filing, but ended the period nearly $29,000 in debt.

Smitherman, who is backed by the Working Families Party, reported having $47,000 on hand. Also running in the Democratic primary are former New York City Council candidates Leon Miles and Sean Henry, the latter of whom reported nearly $56,000 in the bank.


Correction: An earlier version of this post said that a final determination on petition challenges would be made by the state Board of Elections. In fact, the determination will be made by the New York City Board of Elections.  

Additional reporting by Morgan Pehme


Jon Lentz
is City & State’s editor-in-chief.