Gioia wins big in McCaffrey council primary

By Dustin Brown

Eric Gioia captured a landslide victory Sept. 25 with nearly half the vote in the crowded Democratic primary to replace City Councilman Walter McCaffrey (D-Woodside), according to preliminary results.

Peter Vallone Jr. decisively won the Democrats’ nod for the Astoria Council seat his father has held for more than 25 years, an unofficial tally by the Associated Press showed.

A large pool of candidates with diverse professional experience made the race for McCaffrey’s seat difficult to call, although Gioia waged an enthusiastic campaign that pushed him well ahead of opponents Joseph Conley, Matthew Farrell, Patrick O’Malley and Michael Kearney.

Associated Press figures gave Gioia 43 percent with 4,443 votes, more than twice that of his nearest opponents.

Conley, the longtime chairman of Community Board 2, and Farrell, the chief of staff for City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), both garnered 18 percent of the vote. O’Malley, a former public school teacher and prosecutor with the Queens district attorney’s office, earned 14 percent of the vote, and 8 percent went to Kearney, the owner of a local medical business.

“It’s a huge statement,” Gioia said of the margin by which he won the race. “The people of the neighborhood came together and elected one of their own.”

Gioia, a 28-year-old native of Woodside who coordinated Al Gore’s New York presidential campaign and served as counsel in President Clinton’s White House, focused his campaign on the understanding of local issues he developed through his family’s longstanding history in the neighborhood.

With no Republican candidates in McCaffrey’s district, Gioia will face only Green Party candidate Ann Eagan in the November general election.

Buoyed by strong support from the Queens Democratic organization, widespread community backing and the benefit of name recognition, Vallone Jr. was considered the favorite in a race that pitted him against attorney John Ciafone, a longtime member of School Board 30, and local business owner Mike Zapiti.

Vallone pulled a strong victory with 56 percent of the vote, compared with Ciafone’s 34 percent and Zapiti’s 10 percent, according to the Associated Press.

“We’re very happy that our positive message was so well received by the community,” Vallone Jr. said. “I now look forward to being the Democratic candidate and continuing to fight for safer streets, better schools and a cleaner environment.”

Vallone will go on to face a long roster of candidates in November, including Republican Sandra Vassos, Green Party candidate Jerry Kann and Independence Party candidate Michael Mascitti. Ciafone will remain on the November ballot as the Liberal Party candidate.

Vallone Jr.’s father, City Council Speaker Peter Vallone (D-Astoria), came in third in the Democratic primary for mayor behind Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer and Public Advocate Mark Green, eliminating him from the race.

McCaffrey and Vallone Sr. were both forced out of office by term limits.

McCaffrey’s sprawling 26th Council District, nestled in the southwesternmost corner of the borough along the Brooklyn border, covers most of Long Island City, Woodside, Sunnyside and parts of Maspeth. Directly north lies Vallone’s 22nd Council District, which covers Astoria and Long Island City, in addition to parts of Jackson Heights.

McCaffrey cited land use concerns as a No. 1 priority in his district, where a major rezoning measure in Long Island City and development projects like Queens West in Hunter’s Point promise to dramatically alter the face of the community. He also considers education and senior citizen concerns to be pressing issues.

“I think maturity and vision for the district is important,” McCaffrey said several weeks ago. “You have to be able to connect the various needs in the district with opportunities.”

The race for Vallone’s seat was clouded by allegations of impropriety between Vallone Jr. and Ciafone, whose bitter rivalry transformed a public debate last month into a melee of mud-slinging from which only Zapiti emerged unscathed.

“Like in every council district in the city, the issues are what’s closest to the people,” the elder Vallone said of the race, citing police, education, the protection of small businesses and basic quality-of-life concerns such as clean, pothole-free streets as the community’s primary interests.

His successor’s greatest challenge, Vallone Sr. said half jokingly, would be “to do as good as I did.”

“I can guarantee, my son will do at least as good or better,” he added.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.