Katz raises most funds in council race

By Daniel Massey

If City Council members were elected based on campaign fund raising, the race for term-limited City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz's 29th Council District seat would be over and done with.

Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills), an aide to Borough President Claire Shulman who is running on the Democratic ticket, has outraised her five opponents combined, 2 1/2 times, in the race to represent the district that includes Forest Hills, Rego Park, Kew Gardens, Elmhurst and parts of Maspeth.

Katz, who has been endorsed by the Queens Democratic Party, has raised $145,392 to her opponents' combined $57,170.

But none of Katz's five opponents are giving in to the financial front-runner. Lynn Schulman has received some significant help from the four-to-one matching fund program, but even those candidates without the assistance of the Campaign Finance Board are pressing forward.

“We're doing the best we can,” said Norbert Chwat, who is continuing his candidacy on the Conservative Party line after being removed from the Democratic ballot following a petition challenge by Katz. “We don't have any fancy fliers running around, but we're still going.”

Joseph Tiraco, running as an Independent, said “the problem is not money. The problem is getting your message out to the people.”

Lynn Schulman, Katz's only remaining opponent in the upcoming Democratic primary, agreed that her rival's fund-raising success will not automatically doom the other candidates.

“You do need a basic amount. You need to send out mailings and you need to have money for primary day,” she said.

“But outside of that, it's really about getting out and meeting voters,” Schulman said. “It really comes down to voters you're able to touch on a personal level. That's what is crucial to the effort.”

Katz herself is taking no chances this time around. She represented much of the district in the state Assembly for five years before leaving to run for the U.S. House seat that was vacated by Charles Schumer in 1998. She lost that election to Anthony Weiner by less than 500 votes.

“My opponents will get their messages out. People will know who they are and learn about them,” Katz said. “This is a real local election. I'm going door to door, taking nothing for granted.”

Realizing they will not be able to outspend Katz, the five other candidates all attempted to describe what distinguishes them from the pack in interviews Monday.

“The question should be not who you are or what your connections are, but what have you done for the community?” said Chwat. Citing his efforts with the Forest Hills Action League to address sanitation issues, safety on Queens Boulevard and library access for the disabled, Chwat said, “I'm the one that has done.”

Jeanette Evans, who was removed from the Democratic ballot for a faulty petition cover page, but remains in the race on the Green Party line, said a lack of ties to large political organizations is her strength.

“I'm not afraid to criticize the status quo,” she said. “I'm not a very good politician. I'll say things that might get me into trouble.”

Renu Lobo, the only Republican left on the ballot after Alan Munn was thrown off, said her experiences in broadcast journalism and as a community worker make her best qualified for the job. She said that through television, she has brought issues such as crime, immigration and education to the public's attention.

“It's a natural segue from a broadcast career,” she said. “When I talk about issues, I've actually dealt with them.”

As the only candidate with previous City Council experience, Schulman says she is best-suited to represent District 29.

“I've worked in City Council as chief of staff. I know about that side of the ledger,” she said. “I also worked in two city agencies through three mayoral administrations so I have an overall picture of how city government works.”

Like Evans, she pointed to her lack of ties to the Queens political machinery. “I've been around, but I'm a new face in terms of electoral politics,” she said. “People voted for term limits for a reason.”

On the Independence Party line, Tiraco's distinguishing features is his proposal to institute a “violence tax” on businesses that profit from what he labels “sex, cruelty, perversion and narcissism.”

Tiraco said he has a strong background in computers that has fostered an “extreme interest in logic and solving problems.” He said that all problems, even those facing a city of eight million people, “are solvable and should be solved uniquely.”

Katz, meanwhile, is not relying on her campaign purse or her supporters, which include Borough President Shulman and mayoral candidate Alan Hevesi.

She said she worked on education and health initiatives in the state Assembly and since all 14 Queens city council members will be new, “it is important from day one to be able to pick up initiatives that will matter.”

She said she hopes her experience serving the district in the Assembly will help her. “I would only hope the constituents would have me back. It's up to them.”

Reach Reporter Daniel Massey @Timesledger@aol.com or at 718-229-0300. ext. 155.