By Adam Kramer
Queens residents will go to the polls next week and dramatically change the borough’s political landscape. To be decided will be the borough president, all 14 city council seats from Queens and the mayor’s race.
The complete changeover in borough politics stems from term limits, which prevent incumbents from serving more than two terms.
Three Democratic candidates — former Board of Education President Carol Gresser, City Councilman Sheldon Leffler (D-Hollis) and City Councilwoman Helen Marshall (D-East Elmhurst) — face off in the Sept. 11 primary. The winner will go against GOP City Councilman Alfonso Stabile (R-Ozone Park) in the Nov. 7 general election to replace longtime Borough President Claire Shulman.
In the races to succeed the 14 veteran city council representatives, there are 86 hopefuls in the Queens political arena, which has been dominated over the years by incumbents or candidates with party support.
Queens has two of its own — City Comptroller Alan Hevesi from Forest Hills and City Council Speaker Peter Vallone (D-Astoria) — in the hotly contested race to succeed Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
Both have their work cut out for them and face Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer and Public Advocate Mark Green in the Democratic primary.
On the GOP side, media mogul Michael Bloomberg is up against former Bronx Borough President Herman Badillo, who was also a congressman.
The majority of candidates running for elected office in Queens and throughout the city have been bolstered by the new campaign finance law, which matches individual contributions at a rate of $4 to every dollar raised.
The program was designed to lessen the influence of campaign contributors on the candidates, level the playing field and make the information on candidates’ finances readily accessible.
In the first competitive race for borough president since the reign of Donald Manes, who killed himself amid a parking corruption scandal in 1986, the three well-known candidates have stumped through Queens with a similar message. All three — Gresser, Leffler and Marshall — have promised to help solve the borough’s education problems, its housing crunch and public transportation shortfall.
Each has received endorsements from a wide range of organizations and can claim the support of unions and non-profits. The biggest boost to the Gresser campaign was the New York Times endorsement Friday, the lift to Leffler’s campaign came from the Citizens Union endorsement and Marshall caught the biggest fish — the backing of the Queens Democratic machine.
Some of the stiffest competition in the borough is for the seats of the 14 city council members, who have a combined total of 188 years service. As many as 11 candidates are vying for a single council seat.
In one of the two races to replace a sitting Republican, there are six candidates for City Councilman Mike Abel’s (R-Bayside) CD 19 seat. The five Democrats are Tony Avella, Arthur Cheliotes, John Frank, Jerry Iannece and Joyce Shepard. Front-runners are considered to be Avella and Cheliotes, who received the Citizens Union endorsement. The lone Republican is Dennis Saffran.
The fight to succeed City Councilwoman Julia Harrison (D-Flushing) has heated up in the past week with accusations of improprieties thrown at the favored candidate, John Liu. In addition to Liu, Democrats in the race are Ethel Chen, Richard Jannaccio and Terence Park. The lone Republican is Ryan Walsh. The Independent candidate is Martha Flores-Vazquez. In the city’s only Green party primary, Evergreen Chou faces Paul Graziano.
In one of the borough’s quietest races for Leffler’s CD 19 seat, Democrat David Weprin, a political insider and favorite, is pitted against Democrat J.D. Thakral in the primary. The winner faces Republican Philip Sica.
The winner of the primary in City Councilman Morton Povman’s (D-Forest Hills) CD 24 district will face only a Green Party candidate on Nov. 7. The three Democrats, all political staffers at the city and state levels, are James Gennaro, Barry Grodenchik and David Reich. The Green party choice is Lori Zett.
In the Democratic mayoral primary, Ferrer made huge strides in his campaign and jumped into a statistical dead heat with Green according to the Quinnipiac University Poll released Tuesday. Ferrer got a tremendous leg up in the race Wednesday when he received the endorsement from one of the city’s largest unions, the hospital workers’ 1199.
Among likely Democratic voters Ferrer leads with 28 percent of the vote followed by Green with 26 percent. Both Vallone and Hevesi are tied, with each attracting 15 percent of the vote. Some 14 percent of those polled remain undecided, which leaves the race wide open.
If one of the mayoral candidates does not get 40 percent of the vote a runoff will take place on Sept. 25.
On the Republican ticket, Bloomberg has a commanding lead over Badillo, according to the Aug. 15 Quinnipiac poll, the last conducted on the GOP mayoral contest. He leads by 67 percent to 19 percent of likely Republican voters.
Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.