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Astoria senator splits support in race

Photos by Christina Santucci
By Joe Anuta

State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) gave his endorsement to one candidate for borough president, but forked over nearly $4,000 to another earlier in the year.

The Senate minority leader gave the nod to City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) May 29, but months earlier pumped cash into state Sen. Tony Avella’s (D-Bayside) coffers. The two candidates have become increasingly bitter rivals in a Democratic primary, which also includes former state Assemblywoman Melinda Katz, to replace Borough President Helen Marshall.

“Peter Vallone Jr. and I have served the people of western Queens together for more than a decade,” Gianaris said in a May statement. “In that time, I have come to know Peter to be a public servant of great integrity who cares deeply about the people he represents. I am proud to support his efforts to bring that level of commitment to all of Queens as our next borough president.”

Gianaris did not give Vallone any cash, but three months before that endorsement the lawmaker dished out $3,850 to Avella — the maximum allowed by campaign laws and the largest contribution in the lawmaker’s war chest.

Now that the Democratic field has been whittled down to three contenders, political observers believe Avella and Vallone are competing for many of the same votes, meaning each one is hurting the other just by being in the race.

“I consider each of the candidates for Queens borough president to be a friend and, in the case of Senator Avella, also a colleague who I was happy to help. While I believe any of the three contenders would make a great borough president, my support of Peter Vallone Jr. is well known and unwavering,” Gianaris said in a statement. “He will be an outstanding leader for Queens and I am proud to have endorsed his candidacy.”

The Queens County Democratic Party is backing Katz, which is why Gianaris’ decision to break from the pack makes his endorsement more valuable than money, Vallone said.

“We didn’t ask Mike for money because we didn’t need it like Tony Avella desperately does,” said Andrew Moesel, a spokesman for the Vallone campaign. “But we’re happy to have the support of someone who has the guts to stand up to county and do what’s best for Queens, which is much more valuable and what Peter’s campaign is all about.”

Avella did not respond to a request for comment.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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