The ghost of limits past – and ballots yet to come

Among the interesting sub-texts to the results in this year’s Democratic primary, one was written last October 23, when the City Council voted 29 to 22 to overturn public ballots that established, and then affirmed, a two-term limit on elected offices in New York City.

Among the 14 Queens Councilmembers, six voted to allow a third term; eight voted against the move, which was championed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

In the race for City Comptroller, Flushing’s John Liu, who voted against the bill, came in first, while Forest Hills’ Melinda Katz, who supported it, placed a distant third.

Two Queens Councilmembers who opposed allowing themselves a third term, Hiram Monserrate and Joseph Addabbo, have gone on to higher office in the State Senate – with Addabbo beating out 20-year veteran Republican Serpin Maltese in the last election.

Last year, third-term opponent Jamaica Councilmember James Gennaro came within a hair’s breadth of unseating 38-year senate veteran Frank Padavan.

Of the six who supported the move, incumbent Helen Sears was abandoned by her Jackson Heights constituents, who chose civic activist Daniel Dromm by a substantial margin.

In southeast Queens, Council District 28 and Air Force veteran Thomas White, Jr., who voted himself a third bite of the apple, is leading 24-year-old neophyte Lynn Nunes by a paper-thin margin of only six votes, according to initial reports. The two split nearly 64 percent of the votes cast.

Considering that over 5,800 votes were tallied on primary night and the machine counts have to be verified – and possibly paper ballots counted – White’s victory is by no means certain, according to veteran observers.

In the 27th District, powerful and popular Councilmember Leroy Comrie, Jr., a third-term supporter, faced a surprisingly strong challenge from another virtual unknown, Clyde Vandel, who was backed by almost 38 percent of Democrats in the district.

For citywide offices, unless a candidate gets 40 percent of the vote, there has to be a runoff election between the top two – only the Mayoral nomination was decided on primary day.

Therefore, it appears that the term limit hangover will be booming, past the runoffs scheduled for Tuesday, September 29, and through to the general election.

Mayoral candidate Comptroller William Thompson hammered Bloomberg for increasing term limits, almost from the moment he took the stage to thank his supporters for helping him win the nomination.

Brooklyn Councilmember Bill de Blasio, who voted against the term limit increase, outpolled former Public Advocate Mark Greene for the nomination – they’ll face off again at month’s end.

Liu also faces a run-off election for the Comptroller ballot line, against Brooklyn Councilmember David Yassky – who voted for third terms.

Stay tuned.

Another sub-text is still being written, or more properly, re-written. The old political calculus about who comes out to vote no longer computes.

Results hint that the Democratic Party establishment is facing an unexpected consequence of their intensive voter-registration drive ahead of last year’s election. They can no longer count on bowling over “insurgents” in the primary.

It’s still true that in primaries, only the most dedicated fraction of party members turn out. However the faces have changed.

A lot of the younger and first-time voters who were enrolled in droves in ’08 showed up the very next time they had a chance to vote – in the primary. Their presence overcame or offset the stalwart vote of the older, Jewish/Catholic, European-American demographic that had been political money-in-the-bank for years.

In Queens, with candidates to vote for in more than one district, Asians, including south Asians, who used to be computed as virtual primary non-participants, turned out – and turned away two party-endorsed candidates.

The energizing of the new electorate is also shattering the old-school ignorance about “minority” voting – they’re not homogenous.

With so many national, regional, religious and even tribal identities in Queens, we are discovering that “Black,” “Indian,” and among “Asians,” even the “Chinese” aren’t simply blocs, but groups.

Come November, in the 20th Council District election in and around Flushing, Democrat Yen Chou from Taiwan faces off against Republican Peter Koo from Hong Kong – and the election could very well be decided by the Fukienese, or the Korean, or the Jewish or the Hindu vote.

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