Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Three Local Leaders Prepare for Coming Special Election by Lee Landor - Queens Chronicle

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Residents of the 32nd Council District thought they were finally free on Nov. 4, believing they had sifted through the last of campaign mailings and listened to the last of telephone messages: the long-awaited finale to their city councilman’s quest to conquer a state Senate seat had come to its end with his triumph on Election Day.

But their sigh of relief may have come too soon. Now that City Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) is on his way to Albany, the city is preparing to hold a special election for contenders seeking his council seat.

And it appears there are at least three candidates vying for the seat. By the end of the month, voters in the 32nd Council District — which includes the neighborhoods of Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Richmond Hill, South Richmond Hill, Rockaway, Ozone Park, South Ozone Park and Woodhaven — will begin seeing campaign literature once again.

Within the next two weeks, district residents will be bombarded with flyers and posters announcing town hall meetings, press conferences and possibly debates from Democratic district leaders Frank Gulluscio of Howard Beach and Lew Simon of Rockaway Park, and Republican District Leader Eric Ulrich of Ozone Park.

Simon and Ulrich, who have not yet officially declared their candidacies, said they plan to formally do so later this month.

Each candidate claims to have put himself out in the communities that make up the district and, therefore, to have gained name recognition.

Gulluscio, 60, can attribute much of his renown to Addabbo, with whom he has been associated for the last five years. The former teacher joined Addabbo’s staff as director of education and formed close relationships with the school communities in both Rockaway and Howard Beach, where Addabbo’s two district offices are located.

He has also represented the district for the last decade as a Democratic district leader who works closely with Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park).

Following his stint with Addabbo, Gulluscio became the district manager for Community Board 6, where he has worked for more than two years, doing what he believes is similar to the duties of City Council members.

But what might have thrust Gulluscio further into the public eye was his affiliation with Addabbo’s Senate campaign, which he vocally supported at every opportunity. He will likely receive Addabbo’s endorsement after the senator-elect is sworn into office on Jan. 1.

Ulrich, the sole Republican and, at 23, the youngest candidate participating in the non-partisan special election, said having Addabbo’s support might actually hurt Gulluscio more than help him.

Addabbo lost his standing in Rockaway, where about 55 percent of the 32nd Council District’s voting population resides, according to Ulrich, who was elected district leader in 2007 and is president of the Our Neighbors Civic Association of Ozone Park. He claimed residents in the peninsula resent what they consider Addabbo’s abandonment of their communities.

When asked to respond, Gulluscio said the race is not about popularity. He is confident that voters will elect him because of his experience and promises to address “kitchen table issues.”

Realistically, however, it is likely that Gulluscio’s association with Addabbo will cost him the election, according to Howard Schwach, managing editor of The Wave, Rockaway’s leading community newspaper.

Backing up Ulrich’s statement about Addabbo’s desertion of the peninsula during his Senate campaign, Schwach said, “Joe walked away from Rockaway.”

Races such as this are “popularity contests,” Ulrich said. This particular race is not about party lines and, more importantly, he noted, there is little time for voters to thoroughly research the candidate’s backgrounds. So, the more candidates put themselves in the public eye, the more constituents will recognize a face or name and vote accordingly.

Simon, meanwhile, has great name recognition in Rockaway and a significant following, according to Ulrich. His presence reaches beyond the peninsula’s boundaries and onto the mainland: Simon is a fixture at community meetings and events all throughout the district.

The district leader ran against and lost to Addabbo in the 2001 primary for the city council seat. But he thinks his chances this time around are excellent. “I get things done. I’m a man of results,” Simon said. “I respond to the constituency, I’m out at every meeting and every event, and I expect to be there to do the right thing,” Simon said.

The fracture between the Rockaway Peninsula and the mainland will not upset Simon’s campaign because, he said, he has represented both parts of the community for the last 14 years as Democratic district leader.

Be it in person or in writing, “I’m always around,” Simon noted. In addition to attending meetings, events, festivals and parades, among other things, the former private school teacher has contributed various pieces to several local publications, including The Wave. So, he believes that even if constituents haven’t met him in person, they know his name: “I’m sure people are well aware of who I am.”

Many people in the area do know who Simon is, but some don’t take him seriously: in Ulrich’s words, they “poo-poo” his ideas. Despite that, and regardless of widespread assumption that Gulluscio will win the race, Ulrich considers Simon his primary competitor. But, he said, “Anything can happen,” and he is prepared to deal with that.

Meanwhile, each of Ulrich’s opponents is confident that he’ll triumph. Gulluscio kicked off his campaign at the start of 2008, kept it under the radar when Addabbo’s senate race heated up and will now bring it back to the forefront. Simon has launched an unofficial campaign — which will become official once he declares his candidacy in the coming weeks.

“I expect to be the winner and I expect to do a dynamite job,” he said. “And, once I do win, then no one will challenge me in the [2009] primary or the general election.”

Once Addabbo’s seat is vacated in January, the mayor has three days to proclaim a special election to fill the seat, which expires in January 2010. Generally, special elections are held the first Tuesday after 45 days have passed since the vacancy. Some speculate the 32nd Council District’s special election will take place Feb. 10 or the following week.

Candidates are not allowed to run as Republicans or Democrats, so there will be no primary, only a simple runoff. Elections for the next full council term will proceed as originally scheduled in November 2009. Whoever wins the special election will have to run again for the seat next fall.