With Brian Benjamin’s big win Saturday, he is all but assured to be voted in May 23rd as the next Democratic Senator from Harlem’s 30th District. The seat is significant for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that numerically it represents number 32. Meaning if all Democrats joined together when he is seated, they could form a governing majority in the State Senate. Benjamin is well aware of this designation, and explained by phone earlier today that his number one priority will be reuniting mainline Senate Democrats and the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference or IDC.

While Benjamin has vowed to remain in the mainline Senate conference, he apparently flirted with an opportunity to join the IDC. As Will Bredderman reported Saturday, Benjamin met with IDC Leader Jeff Klein and sources say he asked for IDC support in his race. Benjamin denies asking Klein for financial support claiming he met with both the IDC and the mainline Democratic leadership. Either way, Benjamin has a fine line to walk and not just because of the Democratic split in the State Senate.

Born in Harlem, Benjamin moved away as a kid living in both Brooklyn and Queens. After attending Brown University and then Harvard Business School, Benjamin chose to return to Harlem. he eventually joined the influential Community Board 10, rising to Chairman. While Harlem is one of the most reliable bases for Democratic votes in Manhattan, it’s also a very traditional middle class community. So, while the politics there tend to be liberal, the customs and practices are often quite conservative.  For example, elected seats don’t open up very frequently. Politicians, many of whom are pillars in the community, tend to stay put as they age. People like former Congressman Charlie Rangel, former Mayor David Dinkins, former Governor David Paterson, former Assemblyman Keith Wright and current Assemblyman Denny Farrell are institutions who stayed in their seats for years. In some cases they remained active in Harlem politics even after leaving office. It is an old school Democratic tradition that can sometimes deter new leadership.

Benjamin’s closest rival in Saturday’s County Committee vote was Al Taylor, the longtime Chief of Staff to Assemblyman Farrell. Taylor, who is a Reverend and wears a bow tie, was much more the candidate from what might be called “Old Harlem.” A Harlem that has changed dramatically in the last two decades. In fact, it’s been a tricky needle for local leadership to thread. While gentrification has brought new investment to the neighborhood, and boosted property values for many longtime residents, rising rents have also forced people out of their homes. “New Harlem,” while vibrant and exciting, also needs to hold on to some of the more settled families that make it one of the most storied and well known neighborhoods in the entire city. Benjamin would appear to be just the guy who can close that gap between old and new Harlem. Born in Harlem Hospital, he has roots in the community which helps boost his credibility. But as someone who moved there just ten years ago and worked in real estate he is also part of the neighborhood’s evolution.

Ultimately, we can lament the loss of the way things were, but change is kind of the story of New York City. Neighborhoods are organic. They shrink and expand depending on the times. The current law of real estate in Manhattan is that it eventually goes up in value since there is a finite amount of space on the island. And once that change takes place it’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle. What voters can do is ensure that their leadership steadily guides the ship so that progress can be made without the flavor of a neighborhood being lost forvever.

Former Assemblyman Keith Wright, certainly part of that old Harlem guard, was savvy enough to recognize an individual like Benjamin represents the future. Wright took an enormous amount of guff for fixing the vote Saturday by making sure his people showed up to vote for his candidate and his opponents did not. Whether those allegations are even true or not is hard for me to say. However, Wright, who recently left public office to work for a lobbying firm, intends to remain as Manhattan County Democratic Chair which he describes as an “insiders game.” meaning opponents would have to elect enough district leaders in the 2017 September Primary to force him out. Congressman Adriano Espaillat, who beat Wright for the Congressional seat last year, is said to be considering his own bid for Manhattan County Chairman. Espaillat backed Taylor in the race for the Democratic line Saturday and lost. But that too was an insider’s game with 400 plus County Committee members making the decision about who the candidate will be, not the voters.

So while Benjamin, who is expected to win easily in May, will likely have his work cut out for him if he is going to try and unite the two Democratic factions in the State Senate, he will also have a lot to focus on in his own district. And that is striking the balance of representing an old school neighborhood that is undergoing a very modern transformation.