By Tom Momberg
After Mark Weprin’s City Council seat officially became vacant Monday, hopefuls began filing petitions to run for the vacancy created when he took an administration position in the governor’s office.
Due to the date of the vacancy and a number of other open seats around the city, the mayor’s office said the remainder of Weprin’s term would not be filled in a special election, but would instead be held in the normal course of the next general election this fall.
The primary for the District 23 Council seat, which covers Bellerose, Glen Oaks, Queens Village, Oakland Gardens and some smaller eastern Queens neighborhoods, is set for Sept. 10, and the general election is set for Nov. 3. Weprin’s office has remained open for constituent services.
So far six candidates have thrown their hats in the ring for the seat.
Former Flushing Assemblyman Barry Grodenchik, who serves as the director of community boards and parks for Borough President Melinda Katz, has been racking up the political endorsements since he announced his candidacy for Weprin’s seat last month.
Former Congressman Gary Ackerman, who represented eastern Queens and Nassau County, has endorsed Grodenchik, as has Congressman Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), who is also the Queens Democratic leader.
Another former congressman, Rev. Floyd Flake, has also endorsed Grodenchick, who said he is still developing his campaign platform.
Grodenchik said he is working to secure a campaign office and would likely center his platform on education issues. With the help of his campaign manager, Steve Behar, Grodenchik said he feels confident in what is looking up to be a spirited campaign.
“I feel great, because I love to campaign. Already out knocking on doors, we have had an excellent reception,” Grodenchik said. “ I am very excited, because this campaign is going to be about the very values of people living in this district.”
Behar is an attorney who helped state Sen. James Sanders (D-South Ozone Park) to victory in his 2012 campaign. He also ran unsuccessfully for a state Assembly seat.
Attorney and activist Ali Najmi, who would be the city’s first South Asian elected official if he secures Mark Weprin’s vacant seat, also grabbed a couple of major endorsements for his campaign this week.
Zephyr Teachout, a New York Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 2014, announced her endorsement Tuesday, touting his track record working on civil rights legislation as Mark Weprin’s legislative director when he was in the Assembly.
“No other candidate has been such a consistent grassroots organizer,” Teachout said in a statement. “I’ve seen his work in bringing senior care to Queens and building community organizations and know that Ali will be a strong advocate for working families.”
Najmi said Thursday he obtained an endorsement from Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, a progressive LGBT activist group.
Najmi has already set up a campaign office in Queens Village and recently launched a website at www.votef
“I am proud to have a chance to run for a seat in this district, the district I was born and raised in,” Najmi said in an interview. “ This is a community that has given me so much, and I am looking forward to giving back a little more in return.”
Najmi, a former staffer of Mark Weprin, was rumored to be considering a challenge to Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows) in the last election cycle but he ended up staying on the sidelines.
Celia Dosamantes is the youngest hopeful candidate. The 24-year-old Bellerose native said she wants to focus on education and job creation in her campaign.
She is currently deputy chief of staff for Suffolk County Assemblyman Philip Ramos. In the past, she worked as an executive assistant to U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) and as a communications and legislative director for Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows). She has also served as executive director of the Bangladeshi American Advocacy Group.
She said she plans to focus her campaign platform on the support for senior services, schools, job creation and transportation. She has been building a name for herself over one recent community issue, organizing a protest against the proposed juvenile jail in Queens Village.
Dosamantes cites her diverse upbringing by Indian and Mexican parents and notes she can speak four languages including English, Hindi, Bengali and Spanish.
She is also Bengali, Russian and Hungarian and was raised in Catholic, Hindu and Jewish families. If elected Councilwoman to District 23, like Najmi, she too would be the first South Asain elected to City Council.
Rebecca Lynch, currently the deputy commissioner of the Mayor’s Community Affairs Office, has also brought in a big endorsement from the Teamsters Joint Council 16 for City Council in eastern Queens.
This is the first labor endorsement in the competitive race. The powerful Teamsters union represents 120,000 workers in downstate New York and has many members in the District 23 neighborhoods of Eastern Queens.
“I’m energized to have the full support of the Teamsters in my campaign, and look forward to working with Teamster members to ensure the 23rd Council District remains a great place to live, work, and raise a family,” Lynch said in an interview.
Lynch served as assistant commissioner for the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit and as district leader for the 24th Assembly District and was a member of the Eleanor Roosevelt Regular Democratic Club. She also served as a longtime volunteer for a number of local institutions, including the Samuel Field Y in Little Neck and the Alley Pond Environmental Center.
Rebecca is an alumna of PS 186 in Bellerose, MS 67 in Little Neck, Townsend Harris High School, and Colby College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in government and served as president of Colby Hillel, a group celebrating and promoting Jewish life on campus.
Bob Friedrich of Glen Oaks previously ran campaigns against David Weprin in the Assembly and against Mark Weprin for the very same Council seat. Now with strong name recognition and without the challenge of facing the Weprin dynasty, Friedrich said he hopes to be able to get his foot in the City Council after this fall’s election.
“I have the most name recognition, because I’ve been spending the last two decades working on community issues,” Friedrich said in an interview.
Friedrich long advocated for bus expansion in eastern Queens, and said he contributed to preventing $16 tolls from being imposed on the Queensborough Bridge.
A past columnist for the TimesLedger Newspapers, he said he likes that so many different people are running and thinks the 23rd District seat finally has a level playing field.
But he said there is one key distinction between him and his opponents: “All of my opponents are on the payroll of a career politician.”
Friedrich called himself the “common sense Democrat,” focusing his grassroots campaign platform on the interests of the community, not an ideological agenda. He said he would focus on public school issues, fighting taxes and the newly proposed juvenile detention center.
Joe Concannon, a retired NYPD commander has the backing of the Queens GOP as the only Republican candidate for the Council seat.
Concannon previously ran a campaign against Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside). He is putting together a coalition of volunteers for the campaign.
The spokesman said the campaign would revolve heavily on the issues of crime and political corruption.
“Many of my friends as well as the people I meet every day express their dismay with the current ‘leadership’ in the City Council, our mayor and the direction this city is headed in as a whole,” Concannon said in a statement. “I agree with them and I believe, from the bottom of my heart, that we are truly at a crossroads in 2015. Not since the violence and division this city faced decades ago have people felt so disconnected from their government.”
Concannon said he would officially launch his campaign at noon Monday at the NYPD’s 105th Precinct in Queens Village.
Reporters Eric Jankiewicz and Sadef Ali Kully contributed to the report.
Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomb