Avella, Weprin apparent council victors

By Kathianne Boniello

Despite a two-week moratorium on campaigning after the World Trade Center attack, three City Council races in northeast Queens yielded two expected victories and one wild card amid low voter turnout Tuesday when the public went to the polls for a second chance at the primary.

Preliminary election results from New York 1 showed that in Bayside’s 19th Council District, Democrat Tony Avella got a majority of the vote to triumph over the four other Democrats running for City Councilman Mike Abel’s (D-Bayside) seat.

In Flushing, the crowded Democratic race between front-runner John Liu and District Leader Ethel Chen was too close to call as of press time Wednesday, early returns showed. With eight candidates seeking the post held by Councilwoman Julia Harrison (D-Flushing), the race also produced the only Green Party primary in the city, but no early information on the winner.

Preliminary numbers indicated the race for City Councilman Sheldon Leffler’s (D-Hollis) seat resulted in a huge win for Democrat front-runner David Weprin over J.D. Thakral, a Southeast Asian candidate who had hoped to capture the immigrant vote in the district.

The primary was under way Sept. 11 when two jetliners slammed into the World Trade Center, forcing its cancellation. With the primaries rescheduled for Tuesday, many campaigns faced the tough situation of losing momentum amid a borough shocked and distracted by the attacks.

In the race for Abel’s seat, the conventional wisdom had been that Avella would face off against labor leader Arthur Cheliotes.

But early returns Wednesday showed Cheliotes in third place behind political newcomer John Frank, who claimed to have knocked on 13,000 doors in his campaign and sent voters a videotape about his life to introduce himself. New York 1 reported Avella with about 31 percent of the vote, Frank with 24 percent and Cheliotes with 21 percent, according to preliminary results.

Civic leader Jerry Iannece and activist Joyce Shepard brought up the rear.

It appeared Avella — who has run for the seat twice before but lost both bids — would go on to face Republican candidate Dennis Saffran, a Douglaston lawyer, in the November general election.

The 19th Council District covers most of northeast Queens from Bayside to Whitestone to Douglaston.

The Flushing race, one of the most intriguing in the city, was widely regarded as having the best chance at producing the first Asian-American elected official in the state.

Democrats Ethel Chen, Richard Jannaccio, John Liu and Terence Park battled it out in Tuesday’s primary as did Green Party hopefuls Evergreen Chou and Paul Graziano.

Days before the primary Chen had mounted a series of attacks on Liu, accusing him of impropriety while he was a member of Community Board 7 in Flushing, a charge Liu has denied.

Early New York 1 results showed Liu with about 30 percent of the vote running neck-and-neck with Chen, who had 29 percent.

The Democratic and Green Party primary winners will go on to face Republican Ryan Walsh and Independent Martha Flores-Vazquez in November. Flores-Vazquez was knocked off the Democratic Party line earlier this year.

The 20th Council District covers Flushing and parts of other nearby communities.

With a well-known Queens political dynasty behind him, Weprin cruised to an easy victory in the Democratic primary Tuesday in the race for City Councilman Sheldon Leffler’s (D-Hollis) seat in the 23rd Council District.

Weprin, whose brother is state Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D-Bayside) and whose father Saul was the longtime state Assembly speaker, beat out competitor Thakral in Tuesday’s primary with about 70 percent of the vote, according to New York 1. Weprin will face Republican Philip Sica in November.

Thakral had sought to capitalize on the 23rd Council District’s growing South Asian population and was the first Indian-American candidate for the seat.

Leffler’s district covers a large, diverse section of Queens from Hollis and Queens Village to Little Neck, Douglaston and Bayside.

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

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