EXCLUSIVE: Former councilman gets early endorsement in challenge to state Sen. Marisol Alcantara

by Kenneth Lovett

ALBANY — The race may be more than a year away, but former City Councilman Robert Jackson is already getting support from an old foe for his planned primary challenge against freshman breakaway Democratic state Sen. Marisol Alcantara.

Micah Lasher, the former chief of staff to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and a onetime aide to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said he will forgo a second shot at the Upper Manhattan Senate seat and back Jackson's 2018 bid to oust Alcantara in 2018.

Lasher, who finished second to Alcantara in a tight, four-way 2016 primary, said he will campaign and raise money for Jackson, who finished third, just 533 ballots behind the winner. Alcantara was backed by the Senate's Independent Democratic Conference, or IDC, which now has eight members and is aligned in a leadership coalition with the GOP.

"It's incredibly important that we have Democrats in the Senate that we can count on to stand up for progressive values," Lasher said. "Robert Jackson exemplifies that and I'm going to do everything I can to make sure he wins the primary next September."

It's highly unusual for someone to declare a primary challenge, let alone start rolling out endorsements, 16 months ahead of a state race, but Lasher said, "these are unusual circumstances; we're in an unusual moment. Everything Democrats stand for is under threat and the single biggest obstacle to making progressive policy in New York is the Republican-IDC coalition that controls the New York State Senate."

Those close to Jackson say they hope the former city councilman's early entry into the primary will help encourage others to announce their own challenges against IDC members.

Senate Democratic spokesman Mike Murphy had no comment about Jackson and Lasher. But the mainline Senate Democrats, who have accused the IDC of empowering the Republicans and the Trump agenda, are said to be strongly considering financially backing primaries against some of the renegade conference's members in 2018.

Alcantara on the floor of the Senate recently shot back at the criticisms with a racially charged attack on Democratic Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris, who heads up the conference's campaign efforts.
Lis Smith, Alcantara's 2016 campaign spokeswoman, said the first-year senator helped deliver progressive goals in the budget, including a provision to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18 and $10 million for immigrant legal defense services.

"The people who elected her made a judgment that the old tired approach of her two former opponents was wrong," Smith said. "She looks forward to a healthy debate on the issues affecting the people of her district, regardless of who enters the fray."

They say they are also confident Jackson can pick up most of the votes Lasher received in areas where Lasher performed best in 2016, like the Upper West Side and parts of Washington Heights.

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