MANHATTAN – Drama erupted this week in the Democratic primary race to represent the Upper East Side in the New York State Assembly, with an unexpected dropout by one popular candidate, fierce criticism of another over campaign contributions and an inflammatory postcard mailed to Upper East Siders accusing three candidates of not living in with the district they’re vying to represent.
Assembly District 73 candidate May Malik surprised everyone on Tuesday when she announced she would be suspending her campaign.
The former Deputy Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs said in a letter to supporters that she would be joining the Biden Administration, after receiving an “out-of-the-blue” offer to serve as an advisor in the Department of Health and Human Services.
“This was not an easy choice,” Malik said.
“I truly believe that we were in a strong position coming into the primary, but when the call came to serve my country, especially as an immigrant who owes everything to the United States, I felt compelled to take it.”
Following that bombshell, Malik offered an endorsement of former opponent Kellie Leeson, and a scathing rebuke of candidate Russell Squire— not mincing words about the current Community Board 8 Chair.
“Russell Squire should not hold power,” said Malik, pointing to ethics concerns over $24,700 dollars in unauthorized campaign donations— including some from a business connected to Squire’s own brother, as previously reported by Upper East Site— which were later returned.
That’s $14,100 more in potential over-contributions than originally expected.
“Russell’s record shows that in Albany, he will serve nobody but himself and will not act with the best interests of our community in mind,” said the soon-to-be member of the Biden Administration.
“This story has previously been reported,” said Squire campaign manager Jin Choi in a statement to Upper East Site.
“As we said then, any excess contributions the campaign received were inadvertent, and the campaign has returned them. The campaign is in full compliance with all campaign finance regulations, and the fact that other campaigns are still trying to rehash this old story– whether through letters or the media– demonstrates that they have nothing else to run on,” Choi added.
Squire’s campaign, meanwhile, had a busy week itself, drawing criticism after sending out postcards in the mail to homes on the Upper East Side accusing his Democratic primary opponents, Alex Bores, Kellie Leeson and Adam Roberts, of not living with the 73rd Assembly District– which was first reported by Nick Garber at UES Patch.
Squire’s campaign manager fired back to defend the mailing, saying “voters overwhelmingly agree that our representatives should live in the district they seek to represent.”
“It’s pretty simple,” said Choi, “Alex Bores, Adam Roberts and Kellie Leeson do not live in our district. Their candidacies are cynical and they have been deliberately misleading the voters.”
Upper East Site reached out to Bores’, Leeson’s and Roberts’ campaigns to find out if the allegation were true– however, it still would not be disqualifying under the law, because in years where district maps are redrawn, such as this year, candidates do not have to reside in the district they represent.
“This is a sleazy, baseless attack from Russell Squire, who is only trying to distract voters’ attention after getting caught accepting illegal corporate campaign contributions,” said Roberts’ campaign manager Hayley Brundige.
“Adam has lived on the East Side of Manhattan for the last twelve years and is deeply involved in our community. But due to Albany’s redistricting dysfunction, Adam’s current apartment ended up directly across the street from the current district lines,” Brundige explained.
“Squire should be embarrassed for trying to buy this election with Trump-like misinformation, but we’re confident that the Democratic voters of this district will see through his nonsense,” she added.
“I have called the East Side of Manhattan my home for close to a decade,” said Kellie Leeson, adding “I am choosing to represent [Assembly District 73] because it is where I have worked tirelessly as an organizing leader… When I win, I will move the few blocks necessary to officially reside in District 73.”
“I find Russell’s allegations completely disingenuous. Russell is clearly trying to discredit the legitimacy of other candidates because he knows an unopposed race is the only type of race he can win,” Leeson explained.
“I grew up on 90th Street, and I live on 76th Street. With redistricting, I live two blocks outside of district lines,” said Alex Bores in a statement to Upper East Site.
“It’s obvious that Russell is using petty politics to distract from reports of his illegal campaign fundraising,” said the engineer turned politician.
Alex Bores also picked up an another endorsement on Thursday from Andrew Fine, a community leader who serves as vice president of the influential East 86th Street Association, and is also joining the Bores campaign as a Senior Advisor.
“We cannot support the same old political hacks with the same tactics and same solutions and expect a different outcome!” Mr. Fine said in a statement.
“Alex offers a break from the past and a vision for the future,” Fine added.
All four candidates are running to replace outgoing Assembly Member Dan Quart, who isn’t seeking reelection this year.
Kellie Leeson’s campaign did not respond to Upper East Site’s request for comment by time of publication.