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General News    H2'ed 7/17/18

Blake Morris: The Man Who Could Take Down Simcha Felder

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Blake Morris: Candidate for State Senate District 17

The country is in upheaval"and so is New York. "Albany," as the seat of state government is referenced, is facing a shake-up via the Democratic State Senate primaries.

Progressive constituents, both horrified and energized by the Trump scenario, have become increasingly knowledgeable about the inside baseball that has been played by "Democrats" they had previously voted for.

It is now more widely known that those Democrats had in fact been caucusing with the Republicans for seven years. They were members of a self-proclaimed group called the IDC (Independent Democratic Caucus). As a result, progressive legislation passed in the Assembly had been prevented from getting traction in the State Senate.

A full slate of primary challengers is working to get on the ballot in order to take part in the September 13 Democratic primary. Petitions have been submitted. And yes, the previously entrenched IDC members (who allegedly are back in the fold after a Cuomo-initiated reconciliation) are anxious about newly invigorated and informed voters.

The IDC may still have big bucks around, but their scrappy opponents have the will, the energy, and possibly a blue wave of anger on their side.

Recently, I sat down with Brooklyn State Senate District 17 candidate, Blake Morris, for an extended interview.

In my neck of the woods, Alessandra Biaggi is giving kingpin and IDC co-founder, Jeffrey Klein, a robust contest. On his turf, Morris is taking on an equally daunting task. He is challenging local fixture Simcha Felder -- who has run as an unopposed Democrat since 2014. Felder managed the interesting feat of being on the Democratic, Republican, and Conservative lines in 2016.

A contract and property litigation lawyer for three decades, Morris presents as affable and accessible. We covered numerous topics, and the interview ran long because Morris dug down deep into each question. Many of his nuanced answers included sidebars and explanations I had previously not heard.

We covered a lot of back story -- like how Felder got his seat in the first place. It is common knowledge that the 17th District is the result of gerrymandering by the State Senate.

According to an article by the Times-Union, the 2012 "redistricting plan" was the brainchild of previous Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (currently involved in an ongoing bribery and corruption case). The objective was to construct a "conservative-leaning 'Super Jewish' district that would enable the GOP to maintain control over the Senate."

The end result is a district that Morris qualified as the "whitest in the country." His breakdown was close to what I found through research:

70 percent: "European Ancestry"
15 percent: Chinese, Bangladeshi, Pakistani
12 percent: Hispanic
2.7 percent: African-American

Morris described the 70 percent European Ancestry group as 60 percent Jewish, with the remaining 10 percent being a mixture of Italian, Irish, and other. Of the Jewish population, 40 percent is comprised of Orthodox or Haredi Jews.

If Albany comes across as convoluted --- with an assortment of intersecting alliances -- the relationship between Felder and the various sects of the Orthodox Jewish community calls for a scorecard.

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Marcia G. Yerman is a writer, activist, and artist based in New York City. Her articles--profiles, interviews, reporting and essays--focus on women's issues, the environment, human rights, the arts and culture. Her writing has been published by (more...)

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