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Lifton endorses Jordan Lesser in Democratic primary for her State Assembly seat


State Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton endorses Jordan Lesser on Thursday afternoon.
(Photo by Matt Butler)

New York State Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton has endorsed Jordan Lesser in the highly competitive Democratic primary for her Assembly spot.

Lifton's endorsement, which represents one of the most prominent and influential in the race, comes as somewhat of a surprise and fairly late in the game, as the primary election is less than two weeks away. Before the campaign began, Lesser worked for Lifton as her general counsel for 10 years.

"The question I keep getting is 'Who can continue the kind of progressive leadership we want and need, and who really understands how things work in Albany?'" Lifton said at a press conference in downtown Ithaca on Thursday afternoon. "The person I think is most prepared and best qualified to continue this work is Jordan Lesser."

Lesser's pitted against six other Democrats in the June 23 primary, including fundraising front-runners Anna Kelles, a Tompkins County legislator, and Seph Murtagh, another former Lifton staffer and an Ithaca Common Council member. No polling has been done on the race, which makes picking leaders and stragglers more difficult, but solely based on fundraising it's safe to say that Lesser was sitting in the middle of the race going into the home stretch. As of May 26, he was fourth in fundraising, behind Kelles, Murtagh and Cortland County Legislator Beau Harbin.

"I'll work every day to combat climate change, eliminate structural inequalities, and fully fund our schools," Lesser said, thanking Lifton for her support and recounting their 10 years working together. Prominent local attorney Ray Schlather and current Lifton legislative aide Margaret Johnson also spoke in favor of Lesser in the race at the press conference.

Lifton touted Lesser's commitment to progressive values such as 'women's rights, civil rights, worker's rights and human rights."

"He'll be ready on day one," Lifton said of Lesser's ability to handle statewide environmental efforts. "Jordan Lesser is far and away, in my view, the most qualified person for this position. and I wholeheartedly endorse him for this very important Assembly seat."

Lifton has remained largely silent on the race since she announced she was retiring and would not seek a 10th term during a press conference in January. When asked in late May who she would be endorsing, Lifton said she had not chosen a candidate yet but could before the end of the race. Clearly, her willingness to publicly back a candidate changed as the race entered its final weeks.

"My heart has been with Jordan all along because we've worked together so long and so closely," Lifton said of her decision to back a candidate instead of remaining neutral in a race that includes another of her former colleagues in Murtagh. "I thought it was important that he get out here, along with all the other candidates and get known, instead of me putting my thumb on the scale early. [...] I wanted to see, and I've seen it over the last few weeks, an increase in understanding from the community of who Jordan is."

It's certainly the highest profile endorsement for Lesser, who also received a letter of endorsement from Ithaca Common Council member Cynthia Brock, breaking from her colleagues on council who all endorsed Murtagh, as well as some other current and former Lifton staffers.