By Phil Corso
Four of the five Democrats hoping to replace City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) stood united this week in opposition to attack ads being sent out to voters.
Over the past several weeks, at least five mailers landed in mailboxes throughout the northeast Queens 19th Council District attacking Democratic candidates Paul Graziano, Austin Shafran and Chrissy Voskerichian.
Each attack provided a disclaimer at the bottom: “Paid for by Jobs for New York Inc.,” referring to the political action committee backed by the Real Estate Board of New York, which supported fellow candidate Paul Vallone, who was endorsed by the Queens Democratic Party.
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said he found the ads so distasteful that he corralled remaining Democratic candidate John Duane, Graziano, Shafran and Voskerichian Tuesday to publicly denounce the attacks. The protests even extended into Tuesday evening at a Bay Terrace candidates forum, at which nearly 30 civic leaders and borough residents protested the negative campaigning.
“People should run on their record. There is a line between attacking an opponent’s record and real negative mudslinging,” said Avella, who endorsed Graziano for the Council spot earlier this year. “This is one of the worst mudslinging campaigns I have seen in a long time.”
Duane, who was the only candidate not subject to attacks, said he personally asked Vallone to repudiate the ads.
Vallone spokesman Austin Finan said his campaign was not behind the attacks and had no say in their distribution.
“By law, candidates have no control over outside spending nor can they coordinate with expenditure efforts,” Finan said. “Those opponents of Paul Vallone who repeatedly lie about these facts continue to demonstrate they lack the honesty and integrity to represent northeast Queens in the City Council.”
The Jobs for New York PAC doled out a total of $113,134 in outside spending on Vallone’s campaign, The Real Deal reported, along with 14 City Council candidates throughout the city. The PAC figure made up for 124 percent of the $91,466 Vallone’s campaign was spending.
Graziano was targeted in several of the attacks, one of which embedded a nearly 10-year-old photo of his face in a sea of flames and suggested he would “take advantage of racial strife in the community.” He joined with Vallone’s other opponents in the days leading up to the Sept. 10 primary in demanding Vallone either claim responsibility for the ads or denounce them.
“There’s someone absent here today, and there’s a reason for that,” Graziano said. “If Paul isn’t behind this, then he should step up.”
Shafran was also subjected to attacks that he was somehow negatively tied to the actions of indicted Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis), who was arrested along with Halloran and several others in an alleged scheme to get the Democratic senator into the mayoral race as a Republican.
Shafran worked as a spokesman for the Senate Democrats and was on record defending Smith for “integrity, compassion and respect for his office,” but the quote was recorded three years before the senator was arrested.
“There is no place for this in the public discourse,” Shafran said. “Anyone who benefits from these attacks is just as bad as the people who made the attacks.”
Voskerichian, who worked previously as Halloran’s chief of staff, was attacked for her obvious ties to the embattled councilman. She also called for the Vallone campaign to reject the ads.
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4573.