This was the case in the City Council last year for the seat then held by Melinda Katz, which is now occupied by Karen Koslowitz. There was no Republican candidate, so the real race was the crowded primary, with Lynn Schulman, Koslowitz, and Mel Gagarin. Now, in the 28th Assembly District, which is virtually the same district, we have another primary coming – only this time, the seat is not open.
Andrew Hevesi, first elected in 2005 in a special election, may have a primary this fall with Lilianna Zulunova. Zulunova was born in Uzbekistan and has been involved in Democratic politics in recent years. At first glance, it’s not so surprising. A young, ambitious candidate that has made her bones working in campaigns for her party wants to be on the ballot. We have all been there. Zulunova has worked for State Senators John Sabini and Malcolm Smith. All good experience, but to run against an entrenched member of one’s own party might be a reach.
Hevesi has been serving the district since 2005, when he won a special election over Anthony Como. But Hevesi does not give a primary challenger much to go on. Andrew Hevesi has not made any major mistakes while in the Assembly thus far. He has not sought higher office as a means to advance his career. He has made alternative energy an issue as an assemblyman. He has not made inappropriate remarks and there is no proof of unethical behavior (sharing the name does not mean he shares the ethics).
So why do we think that this can be a tough primary for Hevesi? It may not be difficult for him at all, but Zulunova has some interesting strengths that go beyond that of a mere political junkie. She is of Russian descent, and there are a large number of Russian immigrants that now live in that district. Many of them only registered for the first time in recent elections and, according to Steven Stites, who works for the Zulunova campaign, Lilianna has been instrumental in registering them. It means that she might be able to reach into an untapped well.
Add the Russian votes to the support she might have with people she has known for a few years, and she has a chance to get a few votes. Stites feels that Hevesi is “out of touch with what middle class families are going through.” It is very easy to say that, since anyone that was in office when the financial crash happened is now fair game. The Zulunova camp might try to paint Hevesi as someone riding on his family name that should never have been elected in the first place. But that is often a tough sell, especially since he has been the assembly member in this district for a while now.
Hevesi has never been in electoral trouble. Some believe that with the State Senate majority so vulnerable, that all Democratic resources will be going to defend other seats. There is no real need for the Democrats to worry about the Assembly. Even if Hevesi lost in a primary, the seat stays with the Democratic Party. Then there are some that believe that Hevesi can’t lose this seat. His family has political roots in this district that run way too deep.
If this primary happens, it will be fun to watch. What better way to gauge the influence of a new immigrant population? Incumbents should be challenged just to make them defend their turf once in a while. This is a very uphill climb for Zulunova, but when you grow up looking at the Khazret Sultan and the mountain range that comes with it, is the 28th Assembly District really that high of a climb?