By Sadef Ali Kully
City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) officially announced this week his last day in office would be June 15, after accepting an administrative position with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, which will leave the northeast Queens post vacant until primary elections in September.
Weprin, who has already started his first week in Albany as the deputy secretary for legislative affairs for Cuomo, issued a statement May 11 confirming news reports that he was giving up his seat for Albany, where he had served for about 15 years in the state Assembly. His father, Saul Weprin, was the Assembly speaker from 1991 until his death in 1994.
The unexpected resignation put the seat up for grabs with several northeast Queens contenders immediately expressing interest.
According to a Cuomo senior staff member, Weprin has been up in Albany for several weeks now in his new role handling legislative issues.
“Typically, his staff stays on and continues with their usual duties,” said Eric Koch, a spokesman for the City Council. Koch said the City Council would work with his staff to make sure their budget and constituent needs are met despite his sudden departure.
Weprin, also chairman of the Queens delegation, and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan) also oversee funding to groups in Councilman Ruben Wills’ (D-Jamaica) district. Since Wills’ indictment on charges of swindlng public funds, the Council does not permit him to distribute funds or member items.
Koch explained the mayor has to wait a few days after the official resignation date, which was June 15 for Weprin, before he can schedule special elections, which are usually held 40 days after the announcement.
But Michael Ryan, executive director of the city Board of Elections, told a City Council budget hearing Tuesday there would be no specials elections despite two vacancies in the Council and that all elections would be “folded into the primary and the general.”
Even with the race for Weprin’s seat months ahead, several people have publicly declared their intention to run.
Former Flushing Assemblyman Barry Grodenchik announced late last month that he would run for the seat. Fellow Queens resident Steve Behar also considered running but decided to join Grodenchik’s team instead. And the two are not wasting any time waiting to spread the word.
“Barry’s been working in the area for three decades. He’s been involved for the long haul,” Behar said. “There’s not many people who know northeast Queens and Queens as well as Barry does.”
Grodenchik and Behar are now raising money and knocking on the doors of people in the not-yet contested district. Behar acknowledged that many other people are also eyeing the district seat.
“It’s just par for the course,” Behar said. “We have a lot of talented, active people in northeast Queens so it’s a natural thing for people to throw their hat into it.”
Those people include diverse candidates such as Bob Friedrich, president of the Glen Oaks Village civic association and a former TimesLedger columnist. He could not be reached for comment.
Ali Najmi, a 30-year-old criminal defense attorney, said that being a community activist, born and bred in Glen Oaks, could appeal to Distict 23 constiuents. If elected, Najmi would become the first South Asian elected official in the City Council.
Reach Reporter Sadef Ali Kully by e-mail at skull