Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Surprise Move in Election Battle by Lisa L. Colangelo - NY Daily News

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1 of 3 Dems Withdraws

THE RACE for a western Queens Assembly seat took an abrupt turn last week, when one of three Democrats dropped out.

Jeremiah Frei-Pearson said he halted his campaign in order to avoid a messy primary battle.

That leaves Democratic Party pick Aravella Simotas and former local school board president John Ciafone to battle it out in September.

"This certainly changes the dynamics of the race," said Ciafone, a 40-year-old lawyer who touted himself as the most conservative of the candidates.
Frei-Pearson, according to Ciafone, may have been able to siphon some progressive votes from Simotas. They both support gay marriage, while he opposes it.

Ciafone, however, must first fight off charges that he doesn't live full-time in the 36th District.

Earlier this month, he told the Daily News he used his mother's home as his main residence, while his wife and children live in another part of Astoria outside district lines.

He and his family also spend time at a $1.7 million waterfront mansion in Whitestone he called a "summer place."

"This is my home, this is my neighborhood," he said of Astoria. "I was born and raised here."

The seat is currently held by Democratic Assemblyman Michael Gianaris, who is running for state Sen. George Onorato's seat in the fall. Onorato announced earlier this year that he will not seek reelection.

Ciafone admitted he faces an uphill battle against Simotas, a 31-year-old lawyer and Community Board 1 member who has the support of local Democratic elected officials, including Gianaris, Onorato and City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr.

But he said his conservative stance on gay marriage and support of charter schools may help him gain some votes.

Simotas, who also grew up in Astoria, downplayed any fallout from Frei-Pearson's decision to leave the race.

"I'm continuing to do what I have been doing all along, which is knocking on doors and speaking with voters about issues important to our neighborhood," said Simotas. "Nothing has really changed."

Her campaign said Simotas has support among all sectors of the community, including Onorato, who was criticized for his opposition to gay marriage.
Frei-Pearson said he was troubled by the fact that in order to win he would have had to run a "very negative race" against fellow Democrats.

The 32-year-old lawyer said he liked some of Simotas' ideas, but stopped short of saying he would endorse her.

"I will certainly do what I can to make sure we get a progressive into the seat," he said.