Meng clinches Dem primary (WITH VIDEO)

Meng clinches Dem primary (WITH VIDEO)
By Joe Anuta

State Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) gave her victory speech for the Queens congressional race shortly after 10:15 p.m. at a Bayside restaurant Tuesday, capping a day of speculation about who would be able to mobilize their bases for what many predicted would be a dismal turnout.

With 85 percent of the precincts reporting, Meng took 52 percent of the vote. Her closest opponent was state Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows), who garnered 28 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results from AP.

City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) took 16 percent and Bayside’s Dr. Robert Mittman won 5 percent for the seat that stretches from Glendale and Maspeth through Forest Hills and Flushing and ends in Bayside in the east.

Meng was on stage at Plum Restaurant on Bell Boulevard, which some political insiders thought was an odd choice for a victory party, considering her strongest base was in Flushing.

“We in this room, we in the neighborhood, won this important race,” she said. “We made this victory together.”

Voter turnout was key in the primary, which is traditionally held in September. There are about 180,000 active Democratic voters in the district, according to the city Board of Elections. But with 85 percent of the votes counted, only about 24,000 people turned out, which would likely put the final turnout between 13 percent to 15 percent.

The three lawmakers each had hundreds of ground troops knocking on doors and making calls throughout the day.

According to sources within the Democratic Party, Meng had hundreds of workers on behalf of the Queens Democratic Party. The party endorsed the lawmaker and did not want to suffer another defeat, the source said, after state Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck), lost in a special election last year to U.S. Rep. Bob Turner (R-Middle Village).

Lancman’s camp boasted strong on-the-ground operations, but they ultimately were not enough.

“I’d rather have made the effort to pursue my dream than to have gone quietly wondering what could have been,” Lancman said after conceding defeat.

The last-minute push was crucial after the primary was moved from September to June to comply with federal voting laws, forcing the candidates into a three-month-long sprint to collect signatures, raise money and develop a platform. The race was particularly rushed because U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman announced in March that he would not seek re-election when his term expired in January.

As the four candidates participated in multiple debates over the short primary period, the differences in their stances became more apparent.

Lancman and Meng leaned to the political left, while Crowley ran as a more conservative Democrat and Mittman as more of a libertarian.

Social Security was a major campaign issue, with Lancman calling for hiking the FICA tax. Mittman also championed this issue in interviews while Meng felt it should be raised down the road but not during the current economic downturn.

Crowley, on the other hand, was flatly against the tax hike, calling it an necessary burden on middle-class residents.

Crowley and Mittman also leaned farther right on the issue of voter identification requirements. The two called for a measure requiring voter IDs, while Meng and Lancman contended there was a marginal rate of voter fraud at best and that the measure would only act as a deterrent to voters in immigrant and low-income neighborhoods.

Lancman and Crowley tried to position themselves as tough on terror. Lancman distributed a mailer depicting himself in front of explosions and missiles with the words “it’s a dangerous world” emblazoned on the front with quotes from his opponents on the back, casting them as soft on homeland security. Crowley leaned on her support from the FDNY and NYPD and her call to bring troops back to demonstrate her resolve on security issues.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4566.