Vote slated in SE Queens for Waldon’s senate seat

By Bryan Schwartzman

Gov. George Pataki announced this week a special election will be held on Tuesday, March 28, to fill the state senate seat vacated by Alton Waldon, who left the Legislature to become a state judge.

Waldon, a Democrat who had held the office since 1991, revealed back in June that he was giving up his seat to become a judge with the state Court of Claims.

Some community members have criticized the Republican governor for not calling elections sooner and said the 10th Senatorial District, which stretches from Cambria Heights and St. Albans to Far Rockaway, had gone too long without representation.

More than 300 family members and friends turned out for Waldon's swearing-in as a judge Jan. 9 as he officially left his post in Albany.

“A lot of important programs are being decided upon,” said Democratic candidate Henry McCoy, as the Senate allocates money from the budget without a representative from the 10th Senatorial District on hand to press for southeast Queens' interests.

McCoy, a Democratic district leader from St. Albans, is making his first bid for public office. But McCoy has been active in the community and runs the United for Progress Democratic Club. He is a retired police officer and city marshal.

Malcolm Smith, an economic developer from St. Albans who is also running for the seat on the Democratic ticket, has complained numerous times that the election should be held sooner and that the area was not being represented in the Senate's budget process.

“But I think the attention given to the presidential primaries will increase voter turnout for us,” Smith said in an interview.

Cynthia Jenkins, a Democratic district leader from Laurelton and former state assemblywoman, rounds out the list of announced candidates.

But while the election is not for another month, Democratic Party officials were expected to meet Thursday at their Forest Hills headquarters to choose their candidate for the office.

Some 16 district leaders will meet at 5 p.m. and vote to nominate a candidate. However, a source within the party said the outcome would be decided before then when Queens Democratic Party Chairman Tom Manton met with the district leaders and recommended who they should vote for.

Jenkins said while she is hopeful she will be chosen to represent the Democratic Party, she does not think she will be chosen and believes Smith is the favorite.

“Why should they vote for me? I'm for the people and not the party,” she said.

Jenkins has challenged the Democratic establishment several times before, including a 1997 attempt to unseat longtime City Councilman Archie Spigner (D-St. Albans).

But she is planning to collect 3,000 signatures to get on the ballot for the special election and is confident that a high voter turnout would help her chances in the election. She also planned to meet with the Independence Party Wednesday and party officials were considering backing her on their line.

As yet no Republican candidate has announced plans to enter the race in the district, where the number of registered Democrats far outstrip Republicans.

Waldon's successor will have only a short-lived victory. There will be a general election in November preceded by party primaries in September.

“I would have to start campaigning immediately on March 29th,” said Smith, referring to the September Democratic primary.

While the likely winner of the election will be a Democrat, the Senate has been a solidly Republican body for the last 30 years.

Smith said whoever is elected can have an impact if the senator learns to work with the Republican-dominated Senate on common issues.