By Mark Hallum
State Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Flushing) beat back a challenge from community organizer S.J. Jung and will represent the 16th District for the eighth time since 1999.
Final unofficial results from the state Board of Elections put Stavisky at 57.29 percent of the vote and Jung with 42.11 percent in the Democratic primary.
The incumbent held a celebration of her victory over Jung at Good Kitchen Seafood Restaurant at 135-29 37th Ave. in Flushing.
“This election was about issues, not personalities and the voters of District 16 demonstrated their belief in civil and human rights,” Stavisky said of her victory.
Jung ran against Stavisky in 2014 and won about 40 percent of the vote.
“Last night, the voters have spoken and I humbly accept the results of the primary,” Jung said. “In a different capacity, I will continue to tackle these issues and make my contributions to the community.”
Over the course of the race, Jung attempted to have Stavisky thrown off the ballot by challenging her petition signatures. The battle went to a Board of Elections hearing, which reduced her 3,515 signatures by about 2,200, then to the State Supreme Court, which left the incumbent with just over the required minimum of 1,000. Stavisky spoke out about Jung’s opposition to abortion and LGBT rights, which drew protests from Democratic lawmakers in the borough.
Voter turnout at the polls for Tuesday’s Democratic primary was weak in the hotly contested race between the candidates.
Maria Nickens, coordinator of the poll site at Benjamin Cardozo High School in Bayside, said only about 30 voters had arrived between 6 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. to vote in the Stavisky vs. Jung race. She said she did not expect turnout to exceed the 140 voters who showed up at the site for the Democratic congressional primary in June.
The issues which mattered to her in this election were housing and the homeless problem. She lives in Bayside, and although school overcrowding does not affect her, she knows the problem needs to be addressed by elected officials.
As she spoke, poll workers yawned waiting for voters to arrive. The only people circulating through the halls of the high school were students making their way to class.
The Taiwan Center in Flushing shared the same stagnant atmosphere.
Leola Wayne, the coordinator at the Taiwan Center’s polling station in Flushing, said they had only had 41 voters between 6 a.m. and 11 a.m. This was ground zero in the Stavisky-Jung race. Poll workers chatted among themselves to keep busy.
But a sudden spike at Cardozo around 4 p.m. brought in about 100 voters.
Korean-American voter Daniel Kim said his ballot was cast in the spirit of improving business opportunities for Korean immigrants, who he claims have been leaving the city in the past decade. Jung is a Korean-American immigrant who has built a successful life in Queens as a businessman and former president of the MinKwon Center for Community Action.
“Hopefully, he’ll put us on the map and give us some good representation,” Kim said. “The cost of living is too ridiculous here. A lot of Koreans don’t think there is any merit to staying in New York — in America.”
Baysider Mike Cohen said he has always voted at the Cardozo HS poll site. But this time, the Board of Elections decided to flip the script and assign him to a different poll site. He said the issue was with his last name, a problem he believes would be unheard of in a presidential election.
–Throughout the battle for the district, which stretches from Woodside to Bayside and up through much of Flushing, Jung was the recipient of a backlash over his stance on preventing marriage equality from being depicted in textbooks and his strict pro-life position.
Meanwhile, Stavisky collected endorsements from a slew of organizations, Queens elected officials, members of Congress and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall