Sunday, February 1, 2009

Candidates Hustling as Election Day Nears by Lee Landor - Queens Chronicle

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It’s crunch time for the seven candidates competing in the race for the 32nd Council District seat: they have five weeks to get signatures, file petitions, complete paperwork and become household names.

While the pressure is on and time is running out, the contenders are toughing it out and channeling all their energy into their campaigns. Former NYPD lieutenant Glenn DiResto, a Rockaway resident and political newbie, admitted that running in the Feb. 24 non-partisan special election is “a lot of hard work.”

But he and his group of family, friends and volunteers are relentless in their drive to earn the self-proclaimed “political unknown” recognition. “We’re plugging away hard here, every day. Everybody is pitching in ... it’s a real grassroots effort,” DiResto said. “Hopefully, in the end, it will pay off.”

Making it onto the ballot looks promising to the 38-year-old, who is racking up the signatures needed to qualify and has already filed his certification with the city Campaign Finance Board. “It looks like we will definitely have the number [of signatures required], it’s just a matter of what will be litigated,” DiResto said, noting that one of his competitors, also from Rockaway, has already informed him that he will challenge the retired cop’s petition.

But, DiResto is not worried. “I’m not a political machine, but, you know what, we’re getting the job done,” he said. Even his 74-year-old father is braving the cold and getting signatures “because he believes in me and, more importantly, he believes in our community and our city.”

Candidate Eric Ulrich, a Republican District Leader from Ozone Park, is
also completing his petitions. Although the city Board of Elections requires only 1,059 signatures, Ulrich and his team are prepared to get 2,000, just to be safe.

Like DiResto, Ulrich, president of the Our Neighbors Civic Association of Ozone Park, believes the Feb. 24 special election date will benefit him, providing enough time to “get my message out there and show people what it’s all about.”

The biggest hindrance, according to both candidates, won’t be the date, but rather the weather. Each said he hopes to inspire voters to come out and vote, regardless of the forecast.

Sam DiBernardo, one of the first to announce his candidacy in the race, agreed that the weather could be problematic, but he said the entire special election schedule is “a mishmash. You’re putting people in extremely difficult positions because of the weather, because of the time constraints and because of the number of signatures involved.”

He complained that the Board of Elections only allowed a seven- or eight-day window for candidates to collect the required number of signatures, which had to be filed Thursday, Jan. 15 by midnight.

In order to meet the deadline, the 74-year-old said he has been “busy as a one-armed paper hanger,” filling out and filing necessary paperwork, and knocking on doors. DiBernardo said he isn’t sure if he’ll collect the required number of signatures by the deadline.

While worrying about getting his own name on the ballot, DiBernardo imparted some advice for his fellow contenders: “Don’t challenge each other’s petitions. Let the voters decide.” Otherwise, everyone will get involved in legal disputes and, in the end, no one will get on the ballot, he said.

Democratic District Leaders Lew Simon and Frank Gulluscio, of Rockaway and Howard Beach, respectively, haven’t even considered the possibility of not making it onto the ballot.

Both have long been involved in local politics and community organizations for many years, and each has significant name recognition in the district, which includes the neighborhoods of Woodhaven, Richmond Hill, Ozone Park, South Ozone Park, Howard Beach and Rockaway. It appears their primary concern, like most of their competitors,’ is the weather.

In addition to the recognition he’s earned on his own, Gulluscio, the district manager of Community Board 6, got a boost in publicity when he got the support of former City Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr., who defeated Serphin Maltese in the race for the 15th Senatorial District seat in November.

Simon, a long-time community activist, has had his name in local papers for decades — both in articles about him and those by him. In at least one newspaper, Simon regularly published a column for some time, expanding his communication with area residents, civic leaders and elected officials, including Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park).

Candidate Michael Ricatto, an Ozone Park business man, got his name in the paper, too, but that wasn’t exactly good publicity.

Last week, the driver of Ricatto’s campaign bus, 22-year-old Alexander Aponte, accidentally struck and killed 9-year-old Ibrihim Ahmed as he was crossing the intersection of Cross Bay Boulevard and Liberty Avenue — a junction known by area residents to be problematic and dangerous.

Ricatto’s name was all over the news, making headlines across the country. He expressed sadness about the tragedy and suspended all campaign activities until further notice. There was speculation that Ricatto would even drop out of the race altogether.

But, it appears he decided to go ahead with his campaign. According to published reports, Ricatto resumed his campaign after Ibrihim’s funeral, which was on Saturday morning.

“Mr. Ricatto’s out there, actively meeting people, getting signatures,” his spokesman, James McLelland, said. “We’re happy with the way the campaign has progressed up until this point.”

Ricatto filed his first batch of petitions on Monday, Jan. 5. He was the first of the competitors to file, which means his name will be first on the ballot.

“It’s been a very fast-paced campaign,” McLelland said, adding, “We have a lot of good people around us, a lot of good volunteers.” And, although they stopped the campaign for four full days and, as McLelland put it, “were behind the eight ball ... we were able to pick it up and move forward.”

The seventh candidate, Rockaway Democratic District Leader Geraldine Chapey, who is well-known in the peninsula, also has not returned numerous calls since announcing her candidacy.