By Mark Hallum
City Councilman Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens) overcame a mysterious and unexpected opponent in Tuesday’s primary election with 79 percent of the approximately 4,500 votes in his district.
Benny Itteera entered the race stealthily, one Grodenchik staffer said, “popping up” just two weeks before Primary Day and hastily filing expenses with the Campaign Finance Board.
“For nearly two years I’ve been proud to serve as Council member of the 23rd District,” Grodenchik said about his victory. “During that time, I’ve visited every school in my district many times, worked with our first responders from the NYPD and FDNY and worked with civic and community leaders from every neighborhood in our district. I’ve fully funded our schools, libraries, parks and senior centers. I’ve secured funding for a new police precinct in eastern Queens, led the fight against the ill-conceived bag tax, and I am leading the fight to reform and lower property taxes.
“I’m proud that the voters have recognized my work and the work of my staff. I look forward to continuing to serve our community.”
According to Grodenchik’s campaign spokesman, Steve Behar, Itteera was living in Great Neck in Nassau County until Feb. 14, when he purchased a new home in North Shore Towers and did not register as a Democrat until May.
Queens County Board of Elections requires a candidate to be a member of the party for which they are running for at least a year before being eligible to be on the ballot. A state Court of Appeals case, however, set a different precedence, which allowed Itteera to run because he was not registered under any party during his time living in Nassau.
The spokesman said Itteera flew below their radar until he filed expenditures with the Campaign Finance Board in just weeks before the primary with the earliest filing made Aug. 3. Itteera raised about $34,000 for his campaign, according to the CFB, and the earliest contribution filing dates to Aug. 11.
“It’s almost as if he didn’t know he was supposed to file his expenditures until the last minute and just threw something together,” Behar said.
As for campaigning, Behar said Itteera did not seem to reach out to other communities in the district apart from the South Asian population, Itteera claimed Grodenchik did not act in the South Asians’ best interests and was absent on many of the issues concerning them.
Itteera could not be located for comment.
Behar said it was wrong for an individual to challenge Grodenchik’s record having only moved into the district in February.
Itteera did not set up any web presence advertising his candidacy, but what Behar describes as poorly made signs can still be seen illegally littering the medians of the Cross Island Expressway, the Long Island Expressway and other thoroughfares, as well neighborhoods in the district such as Bellerose and Queens Village.
Grodenchik declined to comment on the matter of his opponent. He faces Republican Joseph Concannon in the November general election.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall