Rep. Meeks Wins Democratic Spot In Race To Fill Flake Seat
By Bob Benenson, CQ Staff Writer
Boosted by the endorsement of former Democratic Rep. Floyd H. Flake --
the man he hopes to succeed -- state Rep. Gregory W. Meeks has won the
crucial Democratic nomination for New York's vacant 6th District seat.
His victory in the party caucus Jan. 9 immediately established Meeks as
the strong favorite to win the Feb. 3 special election in the southeast
Flake resigned on Nov. 15, in the middle of his sixth House term, to
concentrate on his ministry at the Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church
in Jamaica, Queens.
Meeks, 44, who had already received the endorsement of New York's
Liberal Party on Jan. 8, will face Republican nominee Celestine Miller, a
local school district superintendent who switched from the Democratic Party
to the GOP after receiving that party's nomination.
Meeks won the Democratic nomination by defeating state Sen. Alton R.
Waldon Jr. in an old-fashioned, closed-door party showdown. New York law
does not provide for primaries in special elections, leaving it to party
officials to choose the candidates.
The nomination was thus left in the hands of about 25 Democratic
leaders from the 6th District, who cast votes weighted by the Democratic
turnout among their constituents.
Under this procedure, Meeks received 71,132 weighted votes, or 54
percent, to 60,702 for Waldon, a veteran state lawmaker who was seeking to
reclaim a House seat he had held briefly following a narrow victory over
Flake in a 1986 special election.
In 1986, Waldon, then a state
representative, and Flake, making his first move into politics, faced off
in a pair of pitched battles for the 6th District seat vacated by the death
of Rep. Joseph P. Addabbo (1961-86).
In the special election that June, Waldon -- who had won the Democratic
nomination in a closely contested party caucus -- edged Flake, running as
an independent, by 1 percentage point. But three months later, Flake cut
short Waldon's congressional career by unseating him in the Democratic
primary for the general election.
Waldon's defeat in the Jan. 9 caucus left him the option of running as
an independent in next month's special election. But the truncated campaign
period of three weeks appeared a prohibitive obstacle.
Meeks now has the all-important Democratic ballot line in a
black-majority district that normally elects Democrats by overwhelming
margins. Flake regularly received more than 80 percent of the district's
vote, as did recent Democratic presidential candidates.
First elected to the state Assembly in 1992, Meeks claims a long list
of prominent supporters, including Flake, black activists Al Sharpton and
Jesse Jackson, and 9th District Rep. Charles E. Schumer, who is running for
the Democratic nomination to challenge GOP Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato this
Flake left no doubts about his preference for Meeks, introducing him to
his church congregation from the pulpit on Jan. 4. In a victory statement,
Meeks made a point of praising 7th District Democratic Rep. Thomas J.
Manton, who doubles as chairman of the Queens Democratic Party. "I look
forward to working together as a team with Tom both at home and in
Washington to get results for the people of Queens," Meeks said.
Manton attributed the outcome in part to "generational" issues. He said
Meeks' supporters thought the younger candidate could eventually achieve
more seniority in Congress that would be helpful to the community.
A third Democrat expected to run for the seat, state Rep. Barbara M.
Clark, did not have her name placed in nomination at the caucus.
© 1998 Congressional Quarterly Inc. All rights reserved.