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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 Queens district.

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.

Rivalry Reopened

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 year.

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.
In CQ News This Week

Saturday Jan. 10, 1998

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