Ivan Lafayette will not seek re-election to Assembly

Ivan Lafayette will not seek re-election to Assembly
By Jeremy Walsh

After 32 years in the state Assembly, Ivan Lafayette (D-Jackson Heights) announced Tuesday he will not seek re-election, causing a major shake-up in the Queens delegation.

Lafayette, 78, the Assembly’s deputy speaker and Queens delegation dean, said he will accept an appointment to an unspecified state position under Gov. David Paterson.

Lafayette declined to name the post he would fill, but indicated it was new.

“It’s a position that I’ve advocated to be established for many years,” he said. “And lo and behold, I’m going to be the guy that’s going to occupy that position.”

It was unclear when Lafayette would be appointed to the position. He said the state Board of Elections’ July 17 deadline for filing candidacy petitions forced his announcement.

“I didn’t want to put my name on the ballot because I didn’t want to tell people I was going to run for another two-year term and then resign,” he said.

Lafayette’s announcement came as a surprise to his Albany colleagues.

“I was shocked,” said state Assemblyman Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights). “This year has been an anomaly in terms of politics and it’s only now seven months in.”

In another move, state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Saratoga) said Tuesday he will give up his seat Friday.

State Sen. John Sabini (D-Jackson Heights) said Lafayette was an effective leader on consumer affairs and insurance matters.

“He had a style of proactively outreaching to constituents,” Sabini said. “I think my success in the [City] Council and [state] Senate came in large part from watching Ivan Lafayette and the way he conducted business.”

Because the petition deadline to get on the ballot is this week, a committee Lafayette put together to fill vacancies on the ballot will choose his replacement.

Lafayette confirmed he would have some influence over choosing a replacement, but did not name any potential candidates.

“There’s been talks,” he said.

Peralta said a likely choice would be Maureen Allen, Lafayette’s longtime chief of staff, but noted that the Queens Democratic Party would have the deciding power. Sabini said another Democratic candidate, Marlene Tapper, has filed a petition for the 2008 ballot, which may mean a primary election.

With Lafayette’s departure, Anthony Seminerio (D-Richmond Hill) will become the Queens Assembly delegation’s leader.

“If you can take the national scene as an analogy, it’s going to be a generational difference,” Peralta said. “Where you see the difference in Barack Obama and John McCain, you’re going to start noticing the [same] difference in electeds in Queens.”

Peralta predicted as many as 10 of the 18 state Assembly members in the Queens delegation could step down or move on to other posts in the next four years.

When Lafayette was elected to the state Assembly in 1976, he was a car salesman with no prior political experience.

“The Democrats had just taken over [the majority]. It was like the Wild West,” he said. “A lot of very strong personalities, each with their own perspectives. It was like 10 [blind] men inspecting an elephant. I enjoyed it. That was a very good introduction.”

He said his proudest achievement in the state Assembly was helping to establish a statewide pre-K education program in the 1980s.

“We finally got the state Department of Education to take it seriously,” he said. “They gave me a very nice grant to do experimental pre-K in my district. It worked out well and impressed people in the Education Department to take a look at it.”

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.