By Kathianne Boniello
Several months before the September primary in the race for City Councilman Mike Abel’s (R-Bayside) seat one Republican candidate has emerged as the main party contender for the position while the five Democrats vying for the spot are standing their ground.
Out of the potential eight candidates who initially indicated their candidacy for the 19th Councilmanic District seat, Republicans Greg Miley and Chris Butler are now out of the race.
Their absences leave Douglaston lawyer Dennis Saffran as the sole Republican candidate for Abel’s seat in a heavily Democratic district. Saffran is a former Democrat who worked with Attorney Generals Eliot Spitzer and Robert Abrams.
While the Republican field of candidates for the seat has recently narrowed, the five Democrats competing for the spot expressed confidence in their campaigns when reached by phone Monday afternoon.
Abel, one of three Queens Republicans in the City Council, has been in office for nearly 10 years and is prohibited from seeking a third term under the city’s 1993 term limits law. Abel announced his candidacy in the borough president’s race in November 1999.
The 19th Councilmanic District covers most of northeast Queens and includes the communities of Bayside, Bay Terrace, Whitestone, College Point, Malba, Douglas Manor, Beechhurst, and parts of Douglaston, Little Neck, Auburndale, Linden Hill, and Murray Hill.
Miley, a city employee who lives in Bayside, had not officially announced his bid for the seat but had been endorsed in February by the local Republican party leadership. Miley could not be reached for comment as of presstime Tuesday.
With Miley’s withdrawal both the Queens County Republican Party and the Conservative Party Executive Committee for the 19th Councilmanic District last week threw their support behind Saffran.
Chris Butler, a Bayside resident who announced his candidacy last fall, said in a telephone interview Tuesday he was considering dropping out of the race and was planning a formal announcement sometime this month.
“I decided it wasn’t the right time to pursue the opportunity,” said Butler, who said he is considering giving his support to Saffran.
Saffran said he felt good about his campaign and that the early withdrawals of the other Republican candidates allowed him to move forward.
“We’re in the mode we expected to be in in September,” he said.
Bill Lewis, president of the Bayside Conservative Party Club, said Miley dropped out because he did not want to give up his job with the city.
Since Miley’s withdrawal, Lewis said his club has not endorsed anyone and was “keeping its options open.”
On the Democratic side of the race the five candidates were upbeat about their prospects in the race.
Tony Avella, a Democratic district leader who lives in College Point, said his campaign for Abel’s seat was doing well.
“There has been overwhelming support within the party,” he said. Avella said four political clubs have endorsed him, including the Michel Democratic Club of College Point, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Democratic Association, the Stevenson Democratic Association and the New Century Democratic Association.
Avella said he has also gotten endorsements from U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), state Sen. Toby Stavi sky (D-Flushing), and state Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn (D-Forest Hills).
A spokesman for Arthur Cheliotes, a Bay Terrace labor leader, said the candidate for Abel’s seat has received a host of endorsements for his campaign, including those of the Communications Workers of America, City Councilman Walter McCaffrey (D-Woodside) and state Assemblyman Cathy Nolan (D-Astoria).
“We’re in there and we’re not moving,” said spokesman Peter Krokondelas.
Political newcomer John Frank, a Democratic candidate for Abel’s seat who lives in Whitestone, said he felt terrific about his campaign.
“I’m looking forward to the next four months,” he said.
Civic leader Jerry Iannece said his campaign for Abel’s seat was progressing well and he had received endorsements from civic leaders like Frank Skala and Mandingo Tshaka.
“It’s going great,” he said. “I’m the only one with a real base.”
Joyce Shepard, a community activist and the only woman in the race, said she received the endorsement of the Building and Construction Trades Council.
“The people who built this city have endorsed me,” she said. “We’re just really starting to kick off.”
Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.