In what may turn out to be a tight primary race in the 18th Senate District, the track record and experience of incumbent Senator Martin Dilan will be pitted against the promise and ambition of challenger Jason Otaño.
Otaño, the former General Counsel to Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, is challenging Dilan in the September 13th Democratic primary, hoping to represent parts of Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Brownsville and East New York in the newly redrawn State Senate district. The diversity of the district partially motivated Otaño, who hopes to follow in the footsteps of 50th Assembly District Leader Lincoln Restler and seize victory by aligning his opponent with embattled outgoing Kings County Democratic Leader Vito Lopez.
“The Senator, while having a credible name, has been ostensibly absentee throughout much of his tenure, particularly in major points in his district in Williamsburg and Greenpoint,” said Otaño. “From the perspective of challenging an incumbent, I did feel that this incumbent was someone who was vulnerable. Particularly if you take the Vito Lopez Machine out of the equation.”
Indeed, the Lopez shadow hangs over this race, as it has in most North Brooklyn campaigns since he took control of the party. The Assemblyman’s close friendship with Dilan is under increased scrutiny due to the recent scandal involving Lopez’ alleged mistreatment of former staffers and interns. Dilan believes that Otaño is trying to frame the discussion around his relationship with Lopez to distract from Otaño’s meager track record working in government.
“I think the disconnect [with voters] is that those individuals that are trying to break into politics have no record or no track record and dwell on the negative at all times,” said Dilan. “Any chance they get to knock someone like Vito Lopez, they do that out of political expediency because they do not have a track record.”
Dilan proudly points to the numerous pieces of legislation he has had a hand in over the years, including Leandra’s Law, which made it a felony to drive drunk with a passenger 15 or under, as well as the relationships he’s established in Albany that allow him to work on both sides of the aisle. That ability to compromise and his knowledge of the district will make him tough to defeat in the primary.
“In this instance when you have an individual with no track record in the community not only does he have to get to know the Senate, the Assembly, and how government operates, but he also has to get to know this community,” said Dilan. “He may have lived out in Williamsburg for two years but he doesn’t know Greenpoint, he doesn’t know Bushwick, he doesn’t know Cypress Hills, Brownsville, East New York or Bed-Stuy. He needs to get to know the community better.”
For his part, Otaño was able to pick up some strong political support, aligning himself with Lopez nemesis, Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez. In fact, without the help and encouragement from both Velazquez and City Councilmember Diana Reyna, Otaño might not have entered the race at all.
“This candidacy has been about coalition building, whether it be [District Leader] Lincoln Restler in the 50th or in the 54th with [District Leader candidate] Darma Diaz and [Assembly candidate] Juan C. Rodriguez,” said Otaño. “There are folks who have felt strangled by this political machine and they’re really looking for a positive force. This candidacy dovetailing and coming together after Nydia’s win has helped fortify that.”
Not lacking in broad political support himself, Dilan has built a formidable coalition, garnering endorsements from elected officials such as Assemblyman Joe Lentol and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.