Wednesday, December 3, 2008

In Final Days of Tipping Point Race, Addabbo and Maltese Pulled Out All Stops by Andrew J. Hawkins - The Capitol

Read original...

On the Sunday two weeks before the election, Sen. Charles Schumer (D) was endorsing Council Member Joseph Addabbo (D-Queens) for State Senate at a senior center in Howard Beach, when he was interrupted by his vibrating cell phone.

Without pausing, he underhand-tossed it to an aide.
“It’s Reid,” he said, referring to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and offering a brief glimpse into Schumer’s other job as head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Under his leadership, Democrats increased their ranks by six seats this year—and counting.

Seizing the moment, Schumer connected the desire for change in Queens with the desire for change in communities around the country.

“Just like here in Howard Beach,” Schumer said, “people in Mississippi and Alaska want change, too.”

Addabbo grinned. This was the kind of stuff he was hoping would send him to Albany and put the State Senate in the hands of the Democrats for the first time in 40 years.

Schumer regaled the crowd with tales of Addabbo in Albany, leading the charge to reform Medicare and provide aid to families who want to send their children to college.

“I go way back with the Addabbo family,” said Schumer, who talked about being mentored by Addabbo’s father, Joe, Sr., in Congress.

After riffing through a few more variations on the need for change, Schumer quickly signed an autograph for a fan and leapt back into his awaiting car. He had one more endorsement stop in Long Island before he could enjoy the rest of his Sunday.

“I have to be home by 4:15 for the Giants/Steelers game,” Schumer said before driving off.

* * *

Several days later, Addabbo and Maltese met for their final debate. While not as dramatic as a previous debate, which included a “double dare ya” moment between the two candidates to drive to a nearby subway station and investigate the smell of urine, the Oct. 30 debate was replete with tense moments.

On that night, local businesses along Eliot Avenue in Middle Village were covered in signs declaring support for both candidates, as well as City Council Member Anthony Como (R-Queens), a former Maltese aid who would be defeated a week later by Democrat Elizabeth Crowley.

[Photo: City Councilwoman-elect Elizabeth Crowley, Juniper Park Civic President Bob Holden and Assembly candidate Tony Nunziato]

Inside the auditorium of the Our Lady of Hope school, local residents and political operatives milled about, trading campaign literature, and shared relief for an election that was winding down. In the corner, two elderly ladies served cookies and Sanka.

“Enjoy the show,” Addabbo said to Maltese’s wife, Constance, who sat in the front row.

[Photo: Senator-elect Joe Addabbo, Bob Holden and Senator Serphin Maltese]

But if anything, the hour-and-fifteen-minute debate lacked fireworks. Addabbo and Maltese traded verbal barbs over local issues, such as the deal to build a casino at the Aqueduct racetrack, and over policy-heavy snoozers, like the intricacies of budget negotiations in Albany. Several members of the audience appeared to doze off during the debate.

Addabbo characterized himself as a fighter, and over the course of the debate repeated variations of the word ad naseum. He spoke very fast, sometimes running his sentences together.

“You know this is the last one of these debates and I’ve had a good time doing these debates to talk to the residents about my platform and hear from you about your concerns and I would work on those concerns as your state senator,” he said.

Maltese, on the other hand, sounded a little worse for the wear, explaining that he was coming down with a cold. Experience is what counts in Albany, he stressed, sucking on a lozenge.

“Ladies and gentleman, they do everything on seniority in Albany,” Maltese said. “They even assign license plates based on seniority. I have license plate No. 21.”

Asked to justify the size of his staff during such tough economic times, Maltese launched into a defense of his aides and their diverse experience.

“Senator, there you go again,” Addabbo retorted, channeling Ronald Reagan. Previously, though, Addabbo had promised to have his staff man a 24-hour hotline for emergencies if elected.

After the debate, Albert Baldeo and David Quintana, a local blogger, stood out in the parking lot, trading opinions.

Baldeo, an attorney who came within 800 votes of defeating Maltese without party support in 2006 (thus putting the senator on the endangered list), expressed no regrets about pulling out of this year’s race and endorsing Addabbo.

“Did you notice how Senator Maltese evaded those questions?” Baldeo asked, already in post-debate spin mode. But he quickly fell silent as Maltese and his wife strode past on the way to their car.

“Have a good night,” said Maltese, smiling.

* * *

The next day found Maltese pulling out the big guns. Here was Mayor Michael Bloomberg (Ind.), who two years previous was so at odds with Maltese that he tried to recruit Addabbo to run against him then.

But that day, Bloomberg, desperate to keep the Senate in Republican hands, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Maltese at the entrance of the Christ Tabernacle Church in Glendale, greeting a stream of costumed children and their families.

Hundreds had shown up for the church’s extravagant Halloween celebration, complete with special effects, a booming techno soundtrack and synchronized dancing.

Maltese and Bloomberg shook hands and posed for pictures with a parade of Supermen, Iron Men, Batmen, princesses and even one giant banana.

“Are you going to be okay?” Bloomberg muttered under his breath to Maltese amidst the hand shaking.

“I think so,” Maltese whispered. He suddenly flinched as the Grim Reaper approached. “I don’t want this guy near me,” the 76-year-old said, laughing.

One young girl dressed as Catwoman approached the two men warily. Turning to her friends, she said, “Which one is the mayor?”

Inside, Bloomberg took the microphone for the formal endorse. But first, the mayor dared the kids to guess his age, then his mother’s age and then Maltese’s age.

“Nobody remembers how old he is,” Bloomberg said. “But he’s been a state senator for 20 years! Is that right? I can’t even count that high!”