By Jeremy Walsh
Queens County Democrats have backed City Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst) over incumbent state Sen. John Sabini (D-Jackson Heights) in the upcoming state Senate race.
Party leaders voted 12-0 Friday morning to back the challenger. Two abstained.
“It was a very difficult decision,” said Michael Reich, the Queens Democratic Party executive secretary. “A lot of people are very fond of John, but the compelling decision was on electability and going forward to represent that district.”
“I am grateful to have the support of the Queens County Democratic Party,” Monserrate said in a prepared statement. “I look forward to working with them as a state senator to improve the lives of New Yorkers. I will work hard to help Democrats win a majority in the state Senate and establish new and progressive leadership in Albany.”
Sabini has said he will stay in the race.
“It is ultimately up to the district's voters to decide whom they want as their state senator,” he said in a prepared statement. “They can be assured that I will fight for the privilege to continue to serve them.”
Monserrate and Sabini have been at odds in two previous elections. Sabini, who has held the office since 2002, won re-election against Monserrate in 2006 by a slim margin of 200 votes. In 2004, Sabini more easily defeated Luis Rosero, whom Monserrate had backed.
Sabini was expected to face Monserrate in the primary race before the election this year regardless of the endorsement.
Reich said Sabini's electability has suffered as the ethnic makeup his Senate district, which includes Corona, East Elmhurst, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights and parts of Forest Hills, grows increasingly Hispanic. Sabini is Italian-American.
Monserrate, who is Hispanic, enjoys a strong following in that community.
Additionally, Sabini has lost much of the support he enjoyed in 2006 from unions, local organizations and political leaders, Reich said.
Reich declined to comment on whether another factor in the decision was the bad publicity surrounding Sabini's arrest in Albany in September on suspicion of drunk driving.
A poll of voters conducted by Sabini's camp found that the incident hurt him more than reports of investigations into Monserrate's involvement with nonprofits have hurt the councilman, a political insider said. Sabini pleaded guilty to driving while awareness impaired, a traffic offense that carries a $300 fine.
Reich dismissed the potential impact of the reports of investigations into whether Monserrate used workers from LIBRE, a nonprofit he helped fund, to gather petition signatures for his 2006 state Senate run.
Neither the city Department of Investigations nor the Queens district attorney's office would comment on the subject.
“I'm certainly not going to condemn a man that hasn't even been accused,” Reich said.
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.