THE INSIDE WORD – New & familiar faces competing for same places

On New Year’s Day, 2010, when most will be wearily rising from a night of drink and dance, a group of thirteen from Queens will rise for a more solemn occasion. They will swear an oath of office, becoming the newest members of the City Council, replacing the two-thirds of the city’s legislative body left vacant by term limits. With thirteen new members out of a fourteen person delegation, the political landscape in Queens will experience a complete makeover. Though the election is more than a year away, recent filings with the Campaign Finance Board served as a coming out party for many of the candidates vying for office.
Unlike 2001, when the majority of our current Councilmembers were political neophytes, the crowd jockeying to replace them is comprised of established names and fresh-faced newcomers. Never before has such a diverse field graced the ballots and though many obstacles remain between now and Election Day, there are already a few races emerging as the ones to watch.
In the 19th Council District, occupied by Councilmember Tony Avella, three candidates have distinguished themselves as leading contenders. Paul Vallone, son of the popular former Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr., has amassed an impressive war chest of over $90,000. Jerry Iannece, former Community Board 11 Chair and Debra Markell, Community Board 2 District Manager also announced their candidacies, raising $38,000 and $25,000 respectively. Expect this to be a highly competitive race as two established community leaders are pitted against a well-financed new face with substantial name recognition.
In the race to succeed District 24 Councilmember James Gennaro, two candidates, Michael Semanowitz and Martha Taylor, have filed campaign disclosure reports. Semanowitz, who serves as Chief of Staff to Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn, has raised $68,000. Taylor, who currently works for Comptroller Bill Thompson and has directed the Community Affairs Unit for two mayoral administrations, raised nearly $25,000. Though Taylor and Semanowitz are both first time candidates, their long standing reputations exude an air of incumbency comforting to voters searching for a reliable leader in a tumultuous election year.
In the 23rd District, Bob Friedrich, Dave Kerpen, Dale Nussbaum and Brian Rivera have announced their intentions to run. Nussbaum leads the way in campaign contributions, but with a significant portion of her donations coming from businesses outside the District, the question remains as to whether that money will translate to votes. Kerpen and Friedrich have also accumulated substantial sums, but will have to raise their profiles with regular voters to compete. However, the most significant wildcard is someone yet to declare. It is widely speculated that Jack Friedman, Director of the Queens Chamber of Commerce and former Chief of Staff to Councilmember David Weprin, will run. If he does, the race may be over before it starts. Friedman is highly regarded as one of the smartest and most genuine leaders in Queens politics. His reputation as an astute problem-solver and dedicated public servant places Friedman atop any class of competitors.
The contest for Helen Sears’ 25th Council District seat features two candidates, Daniel Dromm and Alfonso Quiroz, running to become the first openly gay Councilmember from Queens. While Dromm and Quiroz raised approximately $50,000 each, both employ vastly different approaches. Dromm received the endorsement of the powerful Teachers Union, and is likely to earn the backing of the Queens County Democratic Party, but Quiroz has developed a strong following as a community organizer. This race epitomizes the clash of ’09. With a lesser known name, but experience in the Clinton White House as well as the campaigns of Al Gore and Mark Green, Quiroz is anything but new to politics. As the race evolves, the capabilities of Quiroz’s grassroots campaigning will be put to the test, against an established name.
One of the most intriguing scenarios occurs when an established politician runs as a newcomer. Assemblymember Michael Gianaris is a rumored candidate for the 22nd District seat being vacated by Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. Gianaris, who aborted a candidacy for Attorney General in 2006, is seen as a possible candidate for Council Speaker. However, the election of Speaker is generally decided by the various County parties and delegations, and in the past, Queens has opted to forgo that battle in exchange for prestigious committee chairs.
Although voters have a new president and Congress to elect before Council races officially begin, the drastically changing face of city politics demands our utmost attention, especially with new and familiar faces competing for the same places.

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