By William Lewis
In the 19th City Council District in northeast Queens, it has been a hard-fought race between Republican Dennis Saffran and Democrat Paul Vallone. Both are attorneys and have run for this seat before. Vallone ran in a Democratic primary four years ago but lost to Kevin Kim. Twelve years ago, Saffran ran against Tony Avella in the general election and lost by a narrow margin.
This campaign is looked upon as one of the most competitive Council races in New York City.
In the case of Vallone, his father, Peter Vallone Sr., served for many years in the Council, including as speaker of that body. His brother, Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), just lost a Democratic primary for borough president.
Vallone, however, has name recognition through his family and has had endorsements from all law enforcement labor unions, including the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association.
The public school teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers, is also supporting Vallone by actively campaigning for him.
After the Democratic Council primary, there was little unity among the five candidates. Although Vallone won by a close margin, three of the four other candidates would not support Vallone and one of them, Paul Graziano, endorsed Saffran. In due course we will know if this split in the Democratic ranks has affected the outcome of the race.
Vallone believes that a major issue in the campaign is that northeast Queens is not receiving its fair share of tax revenues from the city government. Saffran is emphasizing law and order issues, such as taking strong positions in favor of stop-and-frisk, in addition to opposing the Community Safety Act, which limits the authority of our police in dealing with suspected criminals. Vallone also supports law and order issues.
Both candidates favor a tax increase for taxpayers making more than $500,000 a year to help pay for education costs.
Saffran is against overdevelopment in northeast Queens.
On the issue of non-citizens voting in local elections, Saffran is opposed to that, while Vallone believes it should be considered.
The important factor facing all candidates running for city office is that Republican Joseph Lhota has continually been far behind city Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, in the polls. That is bound to affect other races, including the Council races.
For the last 20 years Republican-endorsed mayors have run City Hall, even though Democrats have a 6-to-1 advantage in registration over Republicans. This year, however, is different.
Council seats, although term-limited to two terms, are for four years in office. For that reason alone some political candidates would rather run for a four-year office term.
The Council is close to the people in terms of community problems. Hopefully, that will always be the case.
Looking forward to next year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is up for re-election. His political war chest is about $27 million. Not many contenders can match that, although it is rumored that Donald Trump may be interested in running against Cuomo.
If that were to happen, it could lead to an interesting political year. Such a race could affect all the campaigns throughout the state. At the least, an incumbent office holder usually has an advantage over challengers.
New York has had some exciting races during the last few years and will continue to do so.