Tuesday night at the Jubilee Cafe on Bushwick’s Broadway Avenue, the mood was more somber than its name would suggest. Results came in slowly, but it looked like a loss for Kim Council and Helal Sheikh, two Democratic candidates at the election night gathering. Though running for separate positions, Council and Sheikh strangely shared the same opponent on the ballot: former City Councilman Erik Dilan. A longtime figure with the King County Democrats and ally of disgraced Assemblyman Vito Lopez, Mr. Dilan won both races for 54th District’s Assemblyman and local District Leader.
To hear Reverend Council tell it, she and Mr. Sheikh were up against the entire Brooklyn political machine. Besides her day job as a law librarian at a prestigious Wall Street firm, Council is an ordained Baptist minister and inclined to a biblical analogy here and there. “We the David to his Goliath, to be sure.”
Dilan had access to well-heeled donors around the state. Perhaps most prominently in a race with affordable housing as a central issue, Mr. Dilan’s campaign relied on real estate developers as key donors. Finance reports for Erik Dilan and his father Martin (whose Senate reelection campaign was closely tied to Erik’s campaign) detail the industry’s links to the political family.
Though Dilan dramatically outmatched Council’s in the money race, she came away with 40% of the Assembly vote, an improvement from her first race two years ago. In 2012, Council challenged Rafael Espinal for the City Council seat vacated by a term-limited Erik Dilan. Her first campaign had the benefit of a simple tagline: Council for Council.
Names repeat a lot in the politics of northern Brooklyn. Martin Malavé Dilan was the area’s City Councilman from 1991 to 2001. When term limits kept him from continuing, he won the area’s State Senator position and his son Erik won his father’s City Council spot. Erik Dilan then served a decade as well, terming out in 2011. Erik’s Chief of Staff, Rafael Espinal, who had just won the local Assembly seat in a special election, left the job to fill his former boss’s shoes. On Tuesday, the most recent swap was complete – Dilan won his former chief of staff’s Assembly job.
“I call them the Unholy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Chief of Staff,” Council reflected on election night. In a video debate on Brooklyn Independent Media a few weeks ago, Council criticized Erik Dilan for “playing musical chairs” with elected posts. In his closing debate remarks, Dilan responded to the accusation, but also made the unfortunate mistake of confusing the contested Assembly seat with the Council district he represented for years (he addressed voters of the 37th District rather than the 54th District).
Since stepping down from the City Council, Erik Dilan has had a tough few years. He was trounced in a 2012 challenge for longtime Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez’s seat, getting only half of her vote count. In August 2013, he lost out on the well-paid Executive Director role on the New York Board of Elections. No position arose with the de Blasio administration in 2014 either. A Brooklyn politico who declined to be named for this story pointed to Mr. Dilan’s lack of a college degree as a key reason.
Tuesday’s election was a return to public life for Mr. Dilan, marking the unusual circumstance as both his first and second public positions in three years.
As night wore on at the Jubilee Cafe and the votes mounted, Council thanked her supporters. “They had four times the money we did, but they didn’t get four times the vote.”