An overeager campaign worker landed Democratic State Senate candidate Andrew Gounardes in hot water as the bitter race between Gounardes and incumbent Republican Marty Golden entered its final weeks.
Controversy erupted at an Oct. 17 meeting of the District 20 Community Education Council (CEC) at Dyker Heights Intermediate School, where the Gounardes campaign staffer was violating rules by distributing campaign literature on the candidate’s behalf prior to the start of the session, according to a parent who attended the session.
“One of the school workers had to come and stop him,” the parent wrote in a Facebook post.
A Department of Education (DOE) regulation strictly prohibits any type of political activity in public schools.
CECs, which perform the function of local school boards, routinely hold their meetings in public schools. The District 20 CEC represents parents of children in schools in Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and parts of Sunset Park, Borough Park and Bensonhurst.
The political literature distribution matter was brought to the attention of school officials at the same time that, coincidentally, Gounardes was entering the auditorium, according to one witness. Once Gounardes was informed of the situation by school officials, he quickly instructed the campaign worker to stop, the witness said.
The CEC meeting went on as scheduled.
But the parent who wrote about the episode on Facebook was not impressed. “As a lawyer, one should know that there is no electioneering inside of a school,” she wrote, referring to Gounardes, a lawyer who serves as chief counsel to Borough President Eric Adams.
DOE Deputy Press Secretary Doug Cohen confirmed that agency employees had to intervene.
“We have clear regulations in place that prohibit political activity in our schools. DOE employees immediately intervened and stopped the campaign literature from being distributed once it was brought to our attention,” Cohen told the this newspaper in an email.
Dana Adams, Gounardes’ deputy campaign manager, denied that the staff member was doing any electioneering. Adams also denied that the information being distributed was campaign literature.
“We did not have any volunteers campaigning during the meeting. We had a staff member arrive early to share Andrew’s talking points that were reflective of the remarks he made that evening. It’s important to note that nowhere on the flyer we distributed does it say ‘Vote for Andrew’ or even the election day. As soon as Andrew arrived, someone from DOE came over and asked us to stop, and we did so immediately,” Adams told this newspaper.
In addition, Adams charged that “there was express electioneering going on inside by Republicans in the audience.” She emailed this newspaper a flier that she said was being passed around the audience that night. The flier included photos of various Republican candidates running for office, including Golden.
Golden’s campaign criticized Gounardes’ campaign over the DOE flap.
“If this happened as we are hearing, it certainly shows a disturbing lack of judgment from the Gounardes campaign,” Golden campaign spokesperson Michael Tobman told this newspaper. “If Sen. Golden’s opponent had a policy point to contribute to the CEC discussion, that’d be a different situation. But this feels like a crass imposition on parents who were trying to learn more about what and how their children are learning.”
The brouhaha took place as the campaign headed toward the finish line and the two candidates were making their final pitches to voters in preparation for the Nov. 6 election.
Golden, who was first elected to the State Senate in 2002, is running for his ninth term in office representing the 22nd Senate District. He is the only Republican representing a Senate seat in Brooklyn. The district takes in parts of several Brooklyn neighborhoods, including Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, Gravesend, Manhattan Beach, Marine Park and Gerritsen Beach.
Democrats have high hopes for flipping the seat and are pinning their hopes on Gounardes.
Gounardes ran against Golden in 2012 and lost. However, Gounardes received more votes in the Bay Ridge portion of the district than Golden did, a result that impressed many political observers.