By John Wolfson and David Schwartz
In Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, the streets are quiet, but the local race for City
Council is noisy with nastiness, including accusations of extortion and
nastiness. In Middle Village, Queens, voters must choose between a
23-year-old with a locally famous name but no political experience and a
seasoned candidate who has been accused of corruption. And in Staten Island,
a community activist who lost the primary by 100 votes hopes to make up that
deficit in November and become a council member in January.
This year, when people are even less focused on politics as usual, most of
what attention there is has gone to the mayoral race. The other races,
everyone says, were in effect decided in the Democratic primary in September,
since registered Democrats outnumber Republicans five to one in New York.
But Election Day promises a few City Council races in
which the results are not known in advance. Indeed,
there may be as many Republicans in the new City
Council as in the old -- six, out of a total of 51.
Yes, there are other parties besides the Democratic and the Republican.
Three Green Party candidates have qualified for matching funds
from the city: Craig Seeman in District
33, Gloria Mattera in District
39 and Paul Graziano in District
20. The Greens may be building toward electoral success in
the future, but are not considered to have a real shot at victory
this time around. The Liberal, Conservative and Working Families
parties, as well as some lesser known political groups, are also
fielding candidates this year, but, with the exceptions of those
listed below, few are seen as having much of a chance of winning.
(Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach, Bensonhurst)
Registration: Democratic 47 percent, Republican 28 percent
Joanne Seminara received 50 percent of the vote
to win the Democratic nomination in District 43. It was a strong showing
against two opponents, to be sure. But her toughest task lies ahead.
On November 6, she is facing Martin Golden who is not only the incumbent
Republican, but who four years ago beat Seminara for the seat.
What is different this year? That depends on whom you ask.
"Now, we've got his record to run on," Seminara said.
"We're going to beat her by even a larger margin," said Jeffrey Kraus,
Golden's communications director.
According to Seminara, "Many people are unhappy with Golden's record in the
council. . . .The streets are filthier than ever, there's virtually no
sanitation enforcement." Further, she said district schools are very crowded
and streets are congested. There is, Seminara said, "lots of double parking
by restaurants in the area, one of which is owned by the councilman."
Golden himself would not make himself available for comment, but his aide
said many of these charges are "just not true." For example, Kraus said, the
councilman has arranged a second daily garbage pickup on commercial strips in
"Seminara has basically run a mean-spirited campaign," Kraus said. "She has
spent the last four years campaigning against everything Mr. Golden has done."
A controversy over the endorsement by a Republican political campaign
highlights the nastiness of this campaign. The Fiorello LaGuardia Republican
Organization endorsed Seminara, even though she is a Democrat. Seminara
called the endorsement, "very significant. . .a considerable boost in my
According to Kraus, though, there is more to the story than a simple
expression of support. He said that the Fiorello LaGuardia Republican
Organization founder, Arnaldo Ferraro, approached Golden in May and said that
if Golden did not secure a "six-figure" job for Ferraro, "'there would be
"What Mr. Ferraro engaged in is called, in many parts of the world, including
the United States, extortion. The councilman did not buckle under Ferraro's
demands," Kraus said.
Ferraro, a former assemblyman and who is now Election Day operations
coordinator for the Board of Elections, said his political club endorsed
Seminara only because Golden has been an ineffective councilman.
"We look at the qualifications of the person," Ferraro said. "He hasn't
fairly represented the entire district in providing services."
But Ferraro admits that he did approach Golden about a new job. "I do recall
talking about moving my career ahead, but I never told him six figures,"
When asked if that was extortion, Ferraro said, "Tell him to take me to jail.
There's no extortion. If anything, there's a request that he can accept or
reject. Extortion, of course, comes with a threat. I never, never
(Ridgewood, Middle Village, Glendale)
Registration: 51 percent Democrat, 25 percent Republican
Even by New York City standards, the District 30 race has taken
some bizarre twists. Earlier this year, the Village
Voice reported that Republican candidate Dennis Gallagher
and his boss, incumbent Councilman Thomas Ognibene, took trips
and gifts from a buildings consultant. The consultant was seeking
various favors from the city buildings department and allegedly
hoped that Ognibene and Gallagher could help him. No charges were
filed against either man.
The Democratic nominee, Elizabeth Crowley, is the 23-year-old scion of a
mini-political dynasty who initially signed up to run in District 26 but
switched to District 30 at the request of the party establishment.
"I don't need to make it part of the campaign," Crowley said of the
accusations against Gallagher. "I don't need to bring it up. The people of
this district read the newspapers, they know what's going on." Pointing out
that her cousin is U.S. Representative Joe Crowley and that both her parents
were members of the City Council, Crowley said, "My family name has been out
there for years. People know my name can be trusted."
"You know why there's no evidence I did anything wrong?" Gallagher said
during an interview. "Because there's nothing there. Everybody basically sees
through it and knows that it's a sham." Of his opponent, Gallagher said,
"She's a nice young woman who has not been involved in politics before. She
announced in (District) 26, now she's moved in here. She doesn't have the
experience that I have."
Crowley, a decorative painter and home restorer, said she has lived in
District 30 for six and a half years and that her son attends school there.
Obviously, this campaign has none of the serenity that defines District 30, a
lush spot in southwest Queens known for its parks, flowers and cemeteries.
Prior to September 11, Crowley identified education, including curriculum
reform, as the district's most pressing concern. Now, she lists rebuilding
the city as her number-one priority. "I will use my experience working on
construction sites," she said. "You're going to need a lot of cooperation and
(construction) knowledge." She dismissed assertions that she lacks the
experience to be an effective representative, claiming that she grew up
discussing politics with her family. "I'm the 14th of 15 children," she said.
"I think it would have been harder as a kid getting the potatoes passed than
it would be getting a law passed."
Gallagher says his knowledge of the political process will enable him to
"step right up and deliver services immediately. That's probably the biggest
difference between my opponent and me," he said. Gallagher listed business
redevelopment and reconstruction, schools and park space as his biggest
priorities. "The attacks have really made my commitment to get elected even
stronger," he said. "We can't let the terrorists disrupt the democratic
process. Otherwise they win."
(Northern Staten Island)
Registration: Democrats 54 percent, Republicans 23 percent
The real race in District 49, the only Staten
Island district represented by a Democrat, pits the two top vote getters in
the Democratc primary against one another. In that contest, Michael McMahon
defeated Deborah Rose by fewer than 100 votes. Rose is now running with the
Liberal Party's endorsement and has qualified for campaign matching funds.
Republican Joseph Cammarata is the third candidate seeking to replace
incumbent Jerome O'Donovan, who is running for borough president.
McMahon, an attorney and an advisor to O'Donovan, announces proudly that the
Staten Island Democratic organization didn't back him in the primary. That
support went to Jon Del Giorno, who came in third. "We ran an insurgency
campaign," McMahon says. "That speaks to my independent spirit."
Rose, too, ran in the primary without the organization support. "They told me
that the community of color wouldn't come out to vote in the primary," said
Rose, who is black. "They were wrong." Instead, she said, the large primary
turnout of black and Hispanic voters changed the political thinking on Staten
Island. "All of the elected people and party people now know that they cannot
ignore this constituency," she said.
The three candidates agree that growth has gotten out of hand on Staten
Island. They have pledged that, if elected, they will try to enact zoning
restriction and seek additional funding for the district's overcrowded
The overcrowding, McMahon said, has stressed city services and changed the
fundamental nature of northern Staten Island. "We're talking about existing
property that is being torn down to build townhouses," he said. "These are
communities that have existed for years."
Rose has called for a comprehensive development plan," while Cammarata
advocates a citywide zoning effort. He believes construction permits for new
housing should not be granted until enough school seats have been added for
the new students who will live in those homes. Asked how he would implement
such a plan, Cammarata said, "I don't know the exact answer to that."
While McMahon advocates building new schools, both Rose and Cammarata suggest
that some existing structures be converted to schools, saving on constructio
ns costs. McMahon said school construction might have to wait a bit because
of the city's financial problems in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
But, he added, "we do have to push forward with new schools. We must continue
with our priorities, even after September 11."
(Mid-Staten Island; parts of Bensonhurst and Bath Beach, Brooklyn)
Registration: Democrats 46 percent, Republicans 31 percent
Democrat Libby Hikind faces a daunting challenge in
her campaign. A third grade teacher and the sister-in-law of Brooklyn
Assemblyman Dov Hikind, she is running in a district that, since it was
created in 1991, has never elected a Democrat, and she is trying to defeat an
incumbent, James Oddo, who was first elected in a special election two years
ago. Like District 49, this area is growing more rapidly than almost anyplace
in the state, and both candidates agree that some form of zoning reform is
needed to slow it down. Schools are overcrowded, they say, and roads built
years ago cannot handle the ever-increasing traffic.
But then the agreement ends. Hikind asserts that Oddo is beholden to area
developers because he has taken campaign donations from them. According to
the Campaign Finance Board, Oddo had raised about $65,000 through early
August, about $12,500 of which came from two developers.
Noting that Oddo has spent 10 years with the council, first as a staff member
and then as a member, Hikind said, "In all this time, there has been no
downzoning. Where was he? How many houses did they build during his term?" If
elected, she said she would use her discretionary funds to hold educational
seminars on zoning and help pay application fees for communities that want to
enact zoning restrictions.
Oddo insisted that he has fought against several development projects in his
district. "I disagree, first and foremost, that I have received an inordinate
amount of my money from developers," he said. "It makes for great campaign
strategy, but when you get behind the spin, you see that it's just a campaign
tag." He said two separate applications to enact zoning restrictions in six
District 50 communities are set to be submitted to the city.
Oddo said his council experience will be a major asset with so many new
members coming to the council in January. "Most of these folks aren't going
to know where the men's and women's rooms are," he said. "Now they are going
to have to deal with a $40 billion budget? After September 11? To do that
with a veteran body was going to be a challenge. To do that with a neophyte
body is going to be an incredible challenge."
Registration: Democrats 79 percent, Republicans 4 percent
James Davis scored one of the biggest upsets on primary day when he defeated
organization candidate Letitia James by nearly 1,000 votes to become the
party's nominee from the 35th District. But James thinks things could go her
way on November 6.
Two other candidates out of a total of seven, Peter Williams and William J.
Saunders, pulled a combined 2,300 votes during the primary. "Had those
candidates not run, we would have been successful," James said. "They pulled
their support from the same base I do, Prospect Heights, Clinton Hill and
Fort Greene." She figures the bulk of those votes will go to her on Election
Davis could not be reached for comment.
James, a former deputy state attorney general, said she can build the
coalitions needed to bring economic redevelopment and educational reform to
her district. "The unions are still with me," she said, "the elected
officials are still with me."
Davis, a police officer who also worked as a minister, youth organizer and
Democratic district leader, described his priorities during the primary
campaign as improving community relations with police, combating graffiti and
aiding senior citizens.
(Bayside, College Point, Whitestone, Beechhurst)
Registration: Democratic 51 percent, Republican 25 percent
In recent elections, Republicans have fared well
in northeast Queens. Republican Michael Abel, the present term-limited
councilman, was first elected in 1991. Last year, Rick Lazio carried the area
against Hillary Clinton in his unsuccessful U.S. Senate bid. In 1997, Mayor
Giuliani won about 80 percent of the vote there, and Republican Frank Padavan
has been the state senator representing part of the district for almost 30
Now, Dennis Saffran, a lawyer in Governor Mario Cuomo's administration and
then head of a local political group focused on anti-crime and
quality-of-life initiatives until he resigned to run for council, is looking
to be the next Republican to come out of the predominantly white,
upper-middle class district.
Opposing him is Tony Avella, who is State Senator Toby Stavisky's chief of
staff and president of the College Point Sports Association. Avella beat
five opponents with only 30 percent of the Democratic vote in the primary.
One of those opponents, Jerry Iannece, remains on the Liberal party line for
November and said, "I'm still campaigning. Not as hard as before, but I'm
still campaigning." Avella, meanwhile, expresses confidence that, if he runs
on the issues, he can win.
"There's no such thing as a Democratic or Republican pothole or broken
streetlight. People see the need to get things done. Who has the experience,
who knows how to get things done? I think I've demonstrated those qualities,"
Saffran counters that during Avella's time as president of the College Point
Sports Association, three contractors were charged with dumping tons of
construction debris on a baseball field that was being refurbished. "At a
minimum, this brings up serious, serious questions about negligence and
managerial competence on my opponent's part," Saffran said.
Avella says that he did not hire the contractors and showed leadership by
getting the city to pay for the cleanup and getting the construction plan
back on track.
Despite September 11, both candidates maintain that the top issues facing the
district remain better enforcement of zoning codes and improving the schools.
"There are many illegally converted houses. A one- or two- family home is
changing into two-, three- or four-family home. It's a big problem here
because it really puts a strain on our infrastructure, our resources,"
Although the district's test scores are among the best in the city, Avella
said improving education and retaining teachers are major issues. He is
concerned that teachers will leave city schools to go to nearby Nassau
County, where teachers are better paid.
While both candidates recognize that city revenue will be down, neither was
able to suggest what city services could be cut after the attack of September
(Ozone Beach, Howard Beach, the Rockaways)
Registration: 57 percent Democratic, 22 percent Republican
Getting around District 32, geographically one of
the city's largest, can be tough. Construction on the Marine Parkway Bridge
traffic, the Green Bus Line doesn't accept Metrocard transfers, some areas
have no bus service at all, and the A train to Manhattan can take an hour and
a half or
more from some neighborhoods. Not surprisingly, transportation has played a
major part in the District 32 campaign to succeed Republican Al Stabile.
"It's probably quicker to get from Nassau County to Manhattan than it is from
parts of Far Rockaway to Manhattan, and that's not fair," Democrat Joseph
Addabbo said. "There are areas in this district that are untouched by a bus
line; that's not fair." Addabbo, the son of a deceased U.S. representative
from Queens, called for subsidized ferry and express-bus service to Manhattan.
On her campaign Web site, Republican Joann Ariola concurs that transportation
is one of the district's handful of key issues. "I recently worked on getting
$300,000 into the city budget to subsidize the Gateway ferry," she said this
summer. "It costs $13, so if we can get it subsidized it would be more
affordable." Ariola, the former chief of staff for Stabile, could not be
reached for comment.
Like candidates across the city, Addobbo, who is a real estate attorney, and
Ariola both see education as a key issue. Addabboo called for more local
control of schools, while Ariola is especially concerned about school
Although Democrat Addabbo is prominent in the community, Ariola has said "I
have a wonderful chance" of getting elected, adding, "Even though Democrats
outnumber Republicans three to one, we have an extremely conservative