The general election campaign in what will become the 93rd Assembly District unofficially kicked off last week, as White Plains resident and attorney Jeremiah Frei-Pearson backed out of the race and endorsed White Plains Councilman David Buchwald.
The stage is now set for a November showdown between Buchwald, a 33-year-old attorney in his first term on the council, and Assemblyman Robert Castelli, a Goldens Bridge Republican and former state trooper.
“I am honored to have the support of such a hardworking, dedicated leader as Jeremiah Frei-Pearson,” Buchwald said in a statement last week. “I share Jeremiah’s ideals of fighting for our children, strengthening our state’s economy and reforming Albany, and I look forward to working with him, and all our supporters to ensure victory on Election Day.”
Frei-Pearson, also 33, joined the race in January. He had run for the state legislature in Queens in 2010 and had a solid war chest, but came up against a candidate more well-known in the local political arena. Buchwald had strong support among the local party leaders, as he was endorsed by all but one of the local committees. (Bedford backed Frei-Pearson)
“It was very clear that David was a formidable and strong candidate and the only path was to run a very difficult primary,” Frei-Pearson explained last week. “It doesn’t make sense to have that war in a district where a Republican has won the last two elections.”
Frei-Pearson’s withdrawal from the race now allows Buchwald to focus his attention on Castelli, who in 2010 became the first Republican to hold the seat in more than a decade. A former Lewisboro town councilman and college professor, Castelli won a special election to fill the seat in February 2010 when Adam Bradley left to become mayor of White Plains. He was then re-elected by 112 votes that November.
The district, which is currently numbered the 89th Assembly District, leans heavily to the left, and some Democratic leaders were worried a long battle for the nomination could hurt their chances at regaining the seat.
“If you have two people running in a primary race like this, the resources are always limited,” Bedford Democratic Chairman Bruce Yablon explained. Having no primary, he continued, “makes, I think, whomever emerges, it gives them a stronger position where he will probably have more resources.”
The 89th District, before redistricting, has approximately 35,000 registered Democrats and 26,000 Republican and Conservative voters. The district will add North Salem, in which Republicans have around 200 more active voters, while the border between it and the 88th District (which Amy Paulin represents) will change.
North Castle Republican Chairwoman Anita Cozza said Castelli’s name recognition and record will help him overcome the challenge of running in a Democratic district during a presidential election year.
“When he ran the last time he was fairly unknown, and he managed to deliver for the district,” Cozza said. “I would expect Castelli to win. He has a good record being up there [in Albany], and he runs a great campaign.”
Yablon, though, said he expected Buchwald to help the party regain the seat.
“I think he is globally more aligned with the district’s values” than Castelli, he said. “I think that we have a very good chance, for a lot of reasons.”
On fiscal issues, Castelli has championed conservative causes. He pushed for the property tax cap and has sought to repeal the Triborough Amendment to the Taylor Law, which increased the power of public sector unions in contract negotiations. His record on social issues is more moderate. For example, he’s emphasized environmental protection and has called for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. He voted, though, against legalizing gay marriage, a stance Democratic leaders believe will repel voters.
Buchwald, elected in 2009 to the common council, works as a tax attorney. He is a board member of the White Plains Historical Society and the Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council, and has said his focus will be on economic issues, including reducing unfunded state mandates.