By Jeremy Walsh
In a move that surprised many observers, the Queens County Democratic Party has chosen district leader Michael Den Dekker to replace departing state Assemblyman Ivan Lafayette (D-Jackson Heights).
Lafayette, who served in the Assembly for 32 years, announced last week he would take an advisory position under Gov. David Paterson. After submitting the petitions for re-election, he declined the Queens Democratic Party nomination July 15, leaving the slot on the ballot to be filled by a committee he appointed.
Many thought Lafayette's chief of staff, Maureen Allen, would be selected.
Den Dekker, 47, said he was surprised.
“I believe there was some opposition [to Allen],” he said. “I became what is called an alternative candidate.”
Den Dekker is a Jackson Heights native, an actor and a city employee. He spent 10 years with the city Sanitation Department before being assigned to the Mayor's Office of Emergency Management after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He currently works under the City Council as a facilities manager, he said.
Den Dekker became leader of the 39th Assembly District, which includes areas of Corona, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights and Woodside, when it was formed five years ago. At that time, he and fellow leader Ellen Raffaele founded the Wood-Heights Democratic Club to organize areas of Woodside and Jackson Heights.
“We now have a couple hundred members,” he said. “Meetings average between 30 and 60 people.”
District Leader Daniel Dromm said Den Dekker has been involved in the neighborhood for years and briefly considered a City Council run in 2001 before deferring to Helen Sears.
“He's been active in Jackson Heights, especially in northern Jackson Heights, and he's a progressive guy,” Dromm said. “He's very good with the unions. I think he'll make a great assemblyman.”
But Den Dekker may face a challenge in the Democratic primaries. Political consultant Marlene Tapper has also filed her petitions for Lafayette's seat.
Tapper criticized Lafayette for gathering petition signatures after he knew he was going to resign.
“He submitted petitions on the 7th, and on the 9th, he signed affidavits that he was no longer a candidate,” she said. “And he still sent people out for a few days on his behalf. … To me, that's ethically horrible.”
Tapper did not specify any planks in her campaign, but said she supports term limits for state legislators. She said she has not yet started fund-raising efforts.
Tapper ran unsuccessfully against incumbent City Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst) for City Council in 2005, taking in 24 percent of the vote to Monserrate's 76 percent.
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.