Who’s In, Who’s Out–And What It Means For Queens


But Vallone will now have serious petitioning trouble. He had counted on the Democratic nomination, or at least on Democratic clubs breaking with County, to give him adequate petition signatures. Without Dem clubs, he will have to rely for petitioning help on friends left over from his 1998 gubernatorial run. He had hoped to garner help from disgruntled club leaders. But by deft maneuvering, Manton and the County Organization have now appeased enough district leaders and stroked enough egos to assure the County Organization that their endorsement of Hevesi will be meaningful.
Can Vallone now go on? That is not clear. If he does make the ballot, he will have to work hard to make the runoff. There may not be enough conservative ethnics in New York for him to win, despite his large campaign warchest.
For Hevesi, in third place today, the race may prove equivalently difficult. Hevesi by now has spent about one-fourth of his maximum primary funding allotment most of it on expensive TV ads. He no longer has the financial advantage he had only a few months ago. Will his media-based campaign be adequate to replace Mark Green at the top? Maybe. Mantons gamble is just that a crapshoot. Could he have chosen someone other than Vallone or Hevesi, considering that both are from Queens? That would have been almost impossible.
Mantons choice of Manhattan Assemblyman Scott Stringer is no surprise. In fact, had he not chosen Stringer, it would have been astounding. Stringer is the choice of every other Democratic Organization this year. Can Stringer win? Looks good here. He has to beat four other candidates, but only Betsy Gotbaum looks like a real challenger (see my column this week on page 12).
Countys choice of William (Billy) Thompson is a bit of a surprise. They did not go with Council Finance Chair Herb Berman, although until the last minute Berman thought he was getting the nod and even though Assembly Speaker Silver wanted Berman to be the choice. By endorsing two African-Americans (Thompson and Helen Marshall), the County Organization is making news.
But can Thompson win? One District Leader turned to me and asked "In the past thirty years, can you think of a City Comptroller who wasnt a Jew?" The fact of being black helps Thompson because he is the only black running citywide. It also hurts him in a financial position because traditionally this is a position for a Jewish candidate. But, as one very savvy leader told me "Dont think Al Sharpton. Think Carl McCall. Id have no qualms in giving Carl McCall responsibility for public money. Thats who Thompson is." Thompson is a corporate type with very good credentials. But Berman, with a lifetime running city finance, is much more experienced.
Berman should stand a better chance of winning based on credentials alone. But Berman is a notoriously poor campaigner. The choice of Thompson is a gutsy one, but it is one that Alan Hevesi, Countys Mayoral choice, firmly backs.
County first endorsed City Councilwoman Helen Marshall and then did everything they could to undercut her chances of actually winning. On the morning that they announced their choice, there were four candidates against Marshall Councilwoman karen Koslowitz, Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, former board of Ed president Carol Gresser, and Councilman Sheldon Leffler. With four white candidates in the race, and with County backing, Marshall who is African-American could plausibly win. Blacks make up about 20 percent to 25 percent of the Queens Democratic primary vote, and Marshall should get 90 percent of that constituency. In a one on one contest, Marshall would find it almost impossible to win. She would have to get 40 percent of the white vote against a popular white candidate. That she plainly could not get. The more white candidates in the race, the better Marshalls chances.
So what happened? Within 24 hours, Karen Koslowitz (a close friend of Tom Manton) dropped out. This Monday morning, Tom Manton announced that Audrey Pheffer (another friend of Manton) had also dropped out. County sources told me that last weekend, Sheldon Leffler was approached and offered a judgeship if he would drop out. Leffler apparently told the County people to go to hell and that he would take his chances with the jury of the voters. Given this kind of behavior, can anyone seriously believe that Countys professions of support for Marshall are real? I, for one, do not.
As things now stand, there are three candidates for Borough President. There is Helen Marshall, the County designee. There is Carol Gresser, the evident front-runner. And there is Sheldon Leffler.
Leffler, who is husbanding his money for a last minute media push, seems to have one single obsession attacking Carol Gresser. However, Leffler seems oddly off-target whenever he attacks Gresser and his own bland personality and erratic behavior on the campaign trail have made him a distinct underdog. Guaranteed: Leffler will phone me when he reads this or will scrawl nasty notes on a copy of this article, berating me for writing nice things about Gresser. He seems to do this often with the press, which has not made him a media favorite. If Leffler has something that would destroy Gressers career, now is the time for him to present it to the news media. Sheldon, wake up. Then put up or shut up. You might have a chance to win, but this is not the way.
For Gresser, losing Countys endorsement is a blessing in disguise mostly because so many of her opponents have dropped out at Countys urging. She, and not Marshall or Leffler, is now almost the prohibitive favorite. The Manton folks seem to have caved to the pressure brought by the Queens black leadership to support one of their own for Borough President. But then, they are leaving Marshall high and dry. Marshall might reasonably say "Thanks for nothing."
The Democrats designated two Civil Court judgeship candidates. Since Democrats almost always win in Queens, this means that the Democratic designation is equivalent to victory.
The first judgeship went to Bernice Siegal. Before the designation, she was a candidate for City Council in the 24th Council District in Eastern Queens. "I didnt anticipate this," she told me. "But last Thursday, at the Democratic Dinner, (Dem organization operative) Mike Reich goes over to Honey Miller (the Dem District Leader who heads Siegals club, the Eleanor Roosevelt Democrats). Honey comes to me and Honey, Mike, and I talk. Mike offers me the judgeship. That would mean that Id have to drop out and Countys candidate, David Weprin, would get the Council seat. I figured that a bird in the hand is worth . . . well, I said yes. Then, that night I cried. I knew that I could have beaten David. The posters were ordered. A mailing was about to go out. And I was winning. But being a judge is what I always wanted to be. Its for a ten year term. And Ill stay there for the rest of my career. So, in the end, Im happy."
Honey Miller was concerned that this judgeship would prejudice her club in the granting of future judgeships. However, Reich assured her that this judgeship would be "charged" to David Weprin and his Saul Weprin Democratic Club. Miller told me that she has several highly qualified people in her club who deserve future judicial consideration and would not want this elevation to jeopardize their chances.
The second judgeship on the Civil Court bench had been reserved for Sheldon Leffler but went instead to Sid Strauss. For Strauss, it is the happy end to a stormy relationship with the Democratic County Organization. Strauss, in his sixties, had been a Democratic District Leader thirty years ago.
However, ten years ago, he ran against the County choice, Karen Koslowitz, for City Council and lost. That perfidy bought him half a decades hatred from the County
Organization. Eventually, Strauss made up with County and was named Counsel to the Queens Board of Elections.
19TH COUNCIL DISTRICT (Bayside) INCUMBENT MIKE ABEL At the urging of Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin, the County Organization designated State Senate staffer Tony Avella as their candidate.
20TH COUNCIL DISTRICT (Flushing) INCUMBENT JULIA HARRISON Again at the urging of Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin, the County Organization endorsed John Liu for Council. Rival Ethel Chen, who is also a District Leader, tried to speak in opposition to this endorsement. However, County leader Manton ignored her loudly voiced pleas and said "Since there is no one else desiring to speak, the Secretary will cast one vote for John Liu." Chen was quite upset. If Liu wins, which is highly likely, it would be a significant event he would become the first Asian-American to be elected to public office in the history of the city of New York
21ST COUNCIL DISTRICT (Corona-East Elmhurst) INCUMBENT HELEN MARSHALL In this district, with fourteen candidates, the County Organization decided to "hold over" a choice until a later date. It is noteworthy that they did not rapidly endorse, as expected, District Leader Jim Lisa. That may mean that one or more of the many minority candidates people like Aida Gonzalez-Jarrin, Fior Rodriguez-Langumas, Hiram Monserrate or the Rev. Marvin Bentley in the race has a chance for County designation.
22ND COUNCIL DISTRICT (Astoria) INCUMBENT PETER VALLONE As expected, Peter Vallone Jr. was designated. The younger Vallone seems a prohibitive favorite against two opponents. He will almost certainly now succeed his father in the Council next January.
23RD COUNCIL DISTRICT (Hollis) INCUMBENT SHELDON LEFFLER The departure of favorite Bernice Siegal from the race now means that County favorite David Weprin will face only a nominal opponent, J.D. Thakral. The only question now is whether Weprin need spend his appreciable funds in the race. A reasonable guess is that Weprin wins by 3-1 at least, and perhaps by as much as 10-1.
24TH COUNCIL DISTRICT (Forest Hills, Kew Gardens Hills) INCUMBENT MORTON POVMAN As of Monday morning, Councilman Morton Povman Chief of Staff Jeff Gottlieb was expected to get the Democratic nod, but Council Staffer Jim Gennaro was expected to win. Why would Gennaro win? A split in the districts majority Jewish vote would result in Gennaros victory. Gottlieb and Beep Claire Shulman staffer Barry Grodenchik were the two strongest candidates.
Over the past weekend, furious lobbying of Manton on Grodenchiks behalf by Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn and other prominent officials led to a weekend decision to back Grodenchik. Gottlieb, who came to the Monday leaders caucus expecting to win, was faced with Countys decision and withdrew. Gottliebs political mentor, Morton Povman, even made a seconding speech for Grodenchik.
But an experienced eye could see that something else was afoot. Following Gottliebs withdrawal, County Leader Manton uncharacteristically told Gottlieb that "I owe you one." The story now making the rounds is that a prominent Queens elected official will resign soon and will be replaced by Jeff Gottlieb. That seems a credible story, especially since the same Organization types had at one time offered the Hevesi seat to Barry Grodenchik. Watch for the inauguration of State Senator Gottlieb.
25TH COUNCIL DISTRICT (Jackson Heights) INCUMBENT JOHN SABINI District Leader Helen Sears got the County designation over Ellen Raffaele. "They offered me a District Leadership," Raffaele told me. "I told them that I would beat Sears." There are about a dozen candidates in this race, but Sears and Raffaele are the current front runners. Will Raffaele drop out and effectively give the seat to Sears? Not likely right now. But pressure (or reward) could be put on either Raffaele herself or her public servant husband. This is not a settled situation.
26TH COUNCIL DISTRICT (Woodside) INCUMBENT WALTER MCCAFFREY Matt Farrell, the aide to Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz, received the County designation. But Farrell faces a serious challenge from several candidates, of which the most likely winner is Eric Gioia. However, whatever happens to Farrell here, he is someone who will have a major career in public office.
27TH COUNCIL DISTRICT (St. Albans) INCUMBENT ARCHIE SPIGNER Leroy Comrie, Chief of Staff to Spigner, was the County designee. Comrie is a strong front runner against a number of opponents, of which the most likely to succeed is Helen Cooper-Gregory (see my column this week on page 12).
28TH COUNCIL DISTRICT (Jamaica) INCUMBENT TOM WHITE As expected, Tony Andrews, Councilman Whites protege, was given the County nod over a number of other candidates. Andrews faces a number of other candidates, but appears to be the strong favorite in this race.
29TH COUNCIL DISTRICT (Rego Park-Forest Hills) INCUMBENT KAREN KOSLOWITZ With Alan Hevesi endorsed for Mayor, there was never any doubt that the County nod would go to Hevesis protege, Melinda Katz. Katz faces two candidates in the September primary, but expect Katz to win handily.
30TH COUNCIL DISTRICT (Middle Village) INCUMBENT THOMAS OGNIBENE The County Organization moved heaven and earth to get Elizabeth Crowley to move into the district and then couldnt get her designated. Other candidates especially Joanne DeCamp reacted furiously to what they regarded as an interloper. As a result, the County Organization could not reach a designation decision and put off their decision to another day. "I thought this was a done deal," someone told me. I agreed. Why couldnt County follow through on their commitments here?
31ST COUNCIL DISTRICT (Laurelton) INCUMBENT JUANITA WATKINS District leader Charlotte Jefferson, who is definitely not Councilmember Watkins favorite, was designated in this district. There will be a hefty primary with candidates like Ed Lewis and Beth Debasin challenging for Watkins seat.
32ND COUNCIL DISTRICT (Ozone park) INCUMBENT ALPHONSE STABILE What with Joseph Addabbo, Jr. and Geraldine Chapey and Lew Simon heading a raft of viable candidates, the Queens Democratic Organization punted on this one. Instead of deciding to designate one of these powerful people, they decided not to decide. As of now, the 32nd Council District will have no-one designated by the Queens Democratic Organization.
MEANWHILE GOP ENDORSES MEDIA MOGUL MICHAEL The Queens Republican party joined Manhattan and Staten Island in endorsing The 3M Boy, Media Mogul Michael Bloomberg for Mayor. However, Republican State Senator Frank Padavan split with the GOP County organization in endorsing former Bronx Borough President Herman Badillo. The 3M Boy was present for his endorsement and gave $35,000 to the Queens Republican Victory Fund, which is the political action committee for the Queens Republican Organization.
WHOS THE WINNER? TOM MANTON The deftness and adroitness of the Democratic County Organization in promoting their choices while satisfying the desires of viable alternatives, was simply amazing. Tom Manton could not do this everywhere witness the confusion in the 32nd and 21st Council Districts but the entire business was brought off with a precision that has rarely been seen in the past decade. Congratulations to Manton and crew. But, as the descriptions above should make clear, the process is anything but neat. It is a hard, difficult process. And Mantons Organization seems to have mastered the art of the deal. At least for now.
WHOS THE LOSER? CLAIRE SHULMAN There are few sadder sights today than Borough President Claire Shulman as she leaves the stage. Her protege, Audrey Pheffer, has now dropped out of the race to succeed Shulman. And while County officially endorsed Helen Marshall, it is clear that Shulmans nemesis, Carol Gresser, could be the likely winner.
If there is a solace in all this agony, suffice it to say that Shulmans aide and personal friend, Melinda Katz, will probably win a Council seat. And, in the end, the County Organization endorsed Shulmans favorite, Alan Hevesi. If Hevesi wins, Shulman, now 77, may be given a new job of some importance. But Shulman leaves office after 15 years in Borough Hall without being able to know that the next Borough President will continue her policies.

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