Sunday, December 28, 2008

Special Election List Keeps Growing By Nicholas Briano - - The Wave

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If you live in the west end of Rockaway and plan to vote in the upcoming special election, there are at present at least five people from whom you can choose on the February ballot to fill the 32nd City Council District seat vacated by Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., and the list seems to be continually growing.

The city council seat represents the western end of Rockaway, Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park, South Ozone Park and Woodhaven. It becomes open on January 1, the day that Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., the present councilman who defeated longtime State Senate Republican incumbent Serphin Maltese in November's general election, gets sworn into his new position.

Three of the five present candidates for the seat are Rockaway residents. Two are familiar in local politics, Democratic District Leaders Lew Simon and Geraldine Chapey, but the other is a bit of an unknown quantity to many, even in Rockaway.

This is something candidate Glenn DiResto, a retired NYPD lieutenant, hopes to change by the time local residents go to the polls.

DiResto, 38, retired from the NYPD in April and he says that he immediately began thinking about what it would be like to represent the residents of this district.

"This is a great opportunity to serve the community I was born and raised in as well as the surrounding neighborhoods," DiResto said.

The fact that DiResto has no political experience, he says, will actually help the community, because he will be more likely to listen and respond to their needs.

"My inspiration has always been the people who share the same vision as me," he continued. "The people want a politician that serves and listens to the people, without having to give political favors."

As Democratic District Leader since 1994, Lew Simon, on the other hand, is neither a new face in the crowd, nor inexperienced around local politics. Simon, who was also born and raised in Rockaway, feels the election will come down to name recognition. As Democratic District Leader for nearly 15 years, Simon believes that gives him a significant edge over the other candidates and makes him more ready to serve the public.

"People know that they can call me and that I am always there for them," Simon said. "I have great name recognition in the district."

Simon, just as confident about his chances as the others, says he would be proud to represent the district and expects to hit the ground running.

Simon ran for the same seat back in 2001, losing in the Democratic primary when he received 22 percent of the vote compared to Addabbo's 43 percent. Addabbo then won the general election.

In a special election, however, there are no primaries or party regulations. It is every candidate for him or herself, and the number of them has a tendency to grow quickly. The only Republican in the race, though, is Eric Ulrich. He is by far the youngest of the candidates at 23 and feels his age and lack of experience, much like DiResto, could actually turn out to be his greatest strength in the election.

"I feel confident about my chances because this had traditionally been a conservative district," he said. "And I'm the only Republican running."

Ulrich, from Ozone Park, is Republican District Leader. He states that his chances of winning increase as the number of Democratic candidates entering the race increases. That, he says, would split the Democrat vote and increase his chances of winning, even if he received a relatively small percentage of the total votes.

"People are looking for fresh faces in politics and fresh ideas are what the city council needs now," he said. "It is not about what you have done in the past but what you will do in the future for the district and the neighborhoods."

Unlike Ulrich, Howard Beach candidate, Frank Gulluscio, 60, has years of experience that he says warrants his election to the council seat. As a retired schoolteacher, he served as Addabbo's education director for several years before leaving to become the District Manager of Community Board 6.

The last of the candidates is another recognizable name to many, throughout the district. Rockaway's female Democratic District Leader, Geraldine Chapey, announced her candidacy this week, bringing the total number of candidates to five. Three are from Rockaway, which constitutes about half of the district's registered voters. Both Chapey and Gulluscio were unavailable for comment to The Wave.

Voter turnout, despite how many candidates enter the race, is often a major determinant of which candidate is elected, because the great majority of registered voters fail to come out to vote on the day of the special election.

The last special election held in June for the City Council's 30th District seat in Queens involved four candidates. Out of the 68,112 registered voters within that district, only 11 percent made their way to the polls.

Those numbers were similar to the vote in a February 2007 special election in Staten Island's 51st City Council District when six percent of more than 90,000 registered voters chose a new councilmember.

As of March of this year, the 32nd Council District registered 74,619 voters. Fifty-seven percent of the registered voters are Democrats, 20 percent are registered as Republicans, and nearly 20 percent are registered as having no party affiliation.

The number of people who turn out for their choice of candidate will have a significant role in determining the next city councilmember, especially if voter turnout follows tradition and remains low.