It looks as though there will be some drama this year in at least three Queens races for Albany seats. Shaking off the often soporific mood of the election season, several challengers have stepped into the ring to oppose boldfaced names in the state Legislature.
Earlier this week, the Queens Democratic Committee anointed former city Comptroller John Liu as its choice to run against two-term state Sen. Tony Avella, who recently left the traditional party to join the bipartisan Independent Democratic Conference. Liu, who lost his mayoral bid last year, has not publicly accepted the nod, but it is widely expected he will.
Avella angered Queens Dem boss Joe Crowley and other borough party power brokers by jumping to the IDC as the mainline Democrats maneuver to regain control of the Senate this fall. Crowley has championed a primary run by Liu.
The race could ignite ethnic politics in the northeast Queens Senate district, where some 26 percent of eligible voters are Asian.
As the Asian community pushes for greater representation in Queens, Flushing activist S.J. Jung is opposing longtime Sen. Toby Stavisky, a fellow Democrat, who was elected in 1999. Asians account for 40 percent of residents eligible to vote in her redrawn district.
In southeast Queens, former Councilman Leroy Comrie has joined the field of candidates vying for the seat of Sen. Malcolm Smith, a former Democratic majority leader in Albany, who is set to be tried next month on federal corruption charges. Smith’s bid failed to have the case rescheduled so his run for office would not be compromised.
Although these three seats will remain in the same column, Democrats in the Senate are divided into several factions, and mounting a united front to reclaim the leadership will be difficult.
Adding to the ethnic spin on the September primary, South Asian attorney Ali Najmi has decided not to face Assemblyman David Weprin. Najmi, who has ties to the Weprin family through his Democratic Party work, had pushed for the 2012 redistricting with a South Asian/West Indian group.
He has urged Weprin to open a Richmond Hill office in the heart of the South Asian sector of Queens.
Whatever the outcome, we expect a spirited debate on the issues in the run-up to the primaries this fall and more attention focused on the priorities of Asians in Queens.
As more voices join the public conversation, the stronger Queens becomes if the borough can do a good job vetting candidates who can make a difference.