With the Nov. 7 election just around the corner the hottest contest in the borough is the race between a 14-term Republican incumbent and his Democratic challenger for the right to represent northeast Queens in the state Senate.
State Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), who has held the seat since 1972, is in a political dogfight with his Democratic opponent, Rory Lancman, for the leadership of the 11th Senate District where Democrats outnumber Republicans by slightly more than two to one.
The district, which meanders from Whitestone and College Point to Bayside, Little Neck, Douglaston and Glen Oaks and includes Bellerose, Floral Park and parts of Queens Village, has become more diverse over the years with the influx of immigrants.
Of the 157 registered voters in the 11th Senate District, 82,456 are Democrats and 36,355 are Republicans, according to the state Board of Elections.
Political observers said Lancman's quest for his first elected office could be bolstered by a heavy Democratic turnout for presidential contender Al Gore and U.S. senate candidate Hillary Clinton in New York City.
As the two candidates vie for the seat in Albany, each has collected a series of endorsements from newspapers, unions and fellow politicians.
Corey Bearak, president of the Queens County Line Democratic Association, said Padavan is involved in his toughest race since the 1992 election, when he ran against Jeremy Weinstein, a veteran state senator from Howard Beach whose district was redrawn.
"Rory has run a stronger race," he said. "If Gore and Hillary pull out a large vote, it will help Rory."
Bearak said Lancman needs to have poll workers urge voters to case their ballots for him since his name is way down on the list in a year when there is a national election. He said Ann-Margaret Carrozza (D-Bayside) used similar tactics to win her election in 1996.
"Frank has been here a long time, but his base has dissolved," he said. "The neighborhood has changed over the years."
In 1998 Democratic contender Morshed Alam stunned the political establishment in Queens by capturing 41 percent of the vote against Padavan even though the Queens Democratic Party machine failed to back his candidacy.
A spokeswoman for the Queens County Republican Party said as far as she knew Padavan, 65, was way ahead of Lancman, 30, in the polls taken last week.
She said Lancman had not raised as much as he thought he would, but Padavan has built a substantial war chest.
The state Board of Elections, which tracks campaign finances for each candidate, listed the contributions to Padavan's campaign as totaling $247,783 in the period from January 1999 to Oct. 27, 2000 vs. $141,453 for Lancman's campaign.
Lancman, a south Flushing resident, is probably best known for his four-year chairmanship of the Queens Hospital Center Community Advisory Board, where he led the fight against privatization of Queens Hospital.
Padavan said his constituency had come out in full force in his bid to win a 15th term.
"It has been a very rewarding re-election campaign," he said. "People have worked hard to help with my re-election and that is very positive from our side of the coin."
Lancman said he thought his campaign to unseat Padavan was going extremely well and his campaign has set the issues in the race.
"In September at a candidates night Frank (Padavan) spoke first and gave a litany of pork he has brought to the district over the years," Lancman said. "I talked about getting our fair share of school aid, HMO reform, lowering the cost of prescription drugs and gun control.
"That is our agenda, we set the agenda," Lancman said. "Those are the most important issues for the residents of northeast Queens."
Padavan said he has received a wide range of endorsements from the New York State AFL-CIO; NY District Council 37, which represents many of New York City's health care workers; the International Brotherhood of Teamsters; Sierra Club's Atlantic chapter, an environmental group; the Tenants PAC, which fights for tenants' rights; and the United Federation of Teachers.
Many police groups have also supported Padavan, including the New York State Patrol Officers Association, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, Superior Officers Benevolent Association and Patrolman's Benevolent Association of New York City, according to a list released by the state senator's office.
"We have done a very good job for many people," Padavan said. "Many of my constituents belong to those organizations and the endorsements reflect that."
Lancman said he had received endorsements from New Yorkers Against Gun Violence; Working Families Party; District Council 9; Citizens Action, a statewide good government group; and every democratic politician.
The unions backing the Democrat were Local 1180, the city's middle-wage workers; Local 1, which represents Verizon workers; the machinists' union; the musicians' union; and the United Auto Workers union, according to Lancman.
"New Yorkers Against Gun Violence's endorsement was very important because gun control is a central issue in the race," said Lancman. "They talked to both candidates and they chose me over Frank."
The four New York City dailies made endorsements in the race. The New York Daily News and the New York Post came out in favor of Padavan, while Newsday and The Times endorsed Lancman.
Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.