GOP-backed Saffran steps up for Council

GOP-backed Saffran steps up for Council
Photo courtesy Dennis Saffran
By Phil Corso

There are six names hoping to unseat embattled City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) this November, but only one comes from the same party as the incumbent.

Douglaston attorney Dennis Saffran, 57, stepped up as the GOP-backed candidate and only Republican in northeast Queens’ 19th Council District soon after Halloran was indicted on federal corruption and bribery charges in early April. The sitting councilman said he would not seek re-election so he could focus on clearing his name after being accused of soliciting bribes to help state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) secure a spot in the mayoral race on the Republican line.

But Saffran, who worked most recently as the chief of the Appeals Bureau for the Nassau County attorney’s office, said it was time somebody focused more on restoring voters’ trust in government. If elected, Saffran said he hoped to bring to the district the same level of integrity it had under the leadership of former state Sen. Frank Padavan, a fellow Republican.

“People are so disgusted by Dan and everybody else who has been caught up in this and they grow to despise government,” Saffran said. “You can’t have a democracy that way. Public corruption is one of the worst crimes you can commit.”

Saffran ran for the same 19th District seat in 2001 and lost by just under 400 votes to now state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and said he has only become more involved and in-tune with the district in the years since, making him well-equipped for the job. He touted his experience helping to establish an anti-crime and quality-of-life group known as the Center for the Community Interest as one credential he could call upon to improve the lives of northeast Queens constituents.

The 19th Council District includes the neighborhoods of Little Neck, Bayside, Douglaston, North Flushing, Whitestone, Auburndale and College Point.

On the other side of the aisle, five Democrats have been campaigning in anticipation of a September primary, including state Assemblyman John Duane, Flushing activist and urban planning consultant Paul Graziano, former spokesman for the state’s Empire State Development agency Austin Shafran, party-backed Flushing attorney Paul Vallone and former Halloran Chief of Staff Chrissy Voskerichian, of Auburndale.

Saffran said he viewed the Council’s recent attempts to provide oversight of the NYPD’s bias-based stop-and-frisk policy as an unnecessary handcuff on the department’s abilities.

Turning to education, Saffran said he would take a pragmatic approach to the most hot-button issues, such as overcrowding, which he said should be addressed on a case-by-case basis.

To curb overdevelopment in the largely residential district, Saffran said he would work to continue downzoning the region to keep out-of-character projects from entering different neighborhoods.

As for landmarking, he said he would work with community groups to find where the majority would benefit from a landmarked property.

If elected to the Council, Saffran said he would be fairly similar to his predecessor in terms of a voting record, but he distanced himself from Halloran by saying he came from a different wing of the Republican Party.

“I’m most in-sync with the views and values of the basic New Deal and the Great Society, but we have to apply them with sanity,” Saffran said. “At the end of the day, we need strong law and order with security and we need to protect our small businesses.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.