By Mark Hallum
As community activist Paul Graziano pushes to unseat City Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside), he works to shed light on what he claims are the fraudulent campaign practices of his opponent. He also boasts a lengthy career as a land-use consultant and a fighter against over-development in his native northeast Queens.
Graziano said he has gone door-to-door at almost a thousand homes in the 19th District, covering College Point in the west and Douglaston in the east, but has a history in the community which has had a memorable effect for many.
“I do lot of stuff for the community – I never ask for anything in return,” Graziano told the TimesLedger. “Most of the time I’m doing it as an activist or an advocate. … Most of these groups are up against very deep pockets, they’re up against developers who can outspend them 10-to-1. For me to actually be in the position where I actually have the knowledge base and I know how to work this stuff to fight effectively and often win in these cases – whether it’s a BSA case or a zoning case or a court case – I feel I can do that at another level being in the City Council.”
Graziano recently took his fight against Vallone to another level by filing a lawsuit challenging his opponent’s petition signatures, which Graziano contends are fraudulent on many levels. He alleged that Vallone used underage high school students to collect signatures from people within his district, which is a violation of the affidavit at the bottom of the official petition pages.
However, because the prohibitive cost of running a campaign and pursuing a lawsuit at the same time, Graziano dropped the charges against Vallone. The councilman has issued only brief press statements in response to Graziano’s claims, which leaves his challenger without a strong rebuttal.
Graziano, a Flushing native and son of two professors, has made a name for himself working on projects such as turning Fort Totten into a park nearly 20 years ago and putting the Broadway-Flushing neighborhood, about 1,300 buildings, on the National Register of Historic Places in an effort to protect the residents and existing homes from developers.
Although Graziano has not worked in education, he said he understands education policy and plans to use his knowledge of the city’s public school system to reduce overcrowding.
“The reason we have overcrowded schools is not just because of population, it’s because they closed all the other high schools that were low-performing, so they had shoved all these kids into the high-performing schools,” Graziano said. “So Francis Lewis is at 200 percent capacity, Cardozo is at almost 200 percent capacity, Bayside’s at nearly 160 percent capacity.”
Graziano said that while Vallone has the advantage of being part of the “Democratic machine,” he will be an independent force in the district.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall