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Boro voters help forge Clinton win

A bright, dry, sunny day coupled with what pundits called the closest presidential election in almost 40 years brought Queens voters out of their homes and into the voting booth en masse on Tuesday. Some reports placed the turnout in the borough at more than 70 percent.

Many considered the high profile U.S. Senate race between transplanted Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican contender U.S. Rep. Rick Lazio (R-Brightwaters) still tight in the hours before voting booths opened despite recent polls giving the first lady the lead. Clinton won the seat with 55 percent of the vote to Lazio's 43 percent.

In the hottest race in Queens, voters returned longtime Republican state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) to office for a 15th term by a margin of about 64 percent.

Democratic challenger and political neophyte Rory Lancman failed to unseat Padavan, a 28-year veteran, in a heavily Democratic district despite strong support from some of the party's highest-profile officials in the borough.

Other than the Padavan vs. Lancman contest none of the borough's incumbent's faced strong challengers or mounted intense campaigns.

Queens congressional candidates, including: U.S. Reps. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside); Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights); Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans); Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills); Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria); and Nita Lowey (D-Rego Park) scored easy victories to hold onto their seats.

Outside of the Padavan race, the other state senators in the borough faced little opposition in a smooth ride to another term. State Sens. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing), Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans), Dan Hevesi (D-Forest Hills), Ada Smith (D-Jamaica), George Onorato (D-Long Island City) and Serphin Maltese (R-Glendale) kept their jobs with a wide margin of the vote.

The Queens delegation in the state Assembly followed suit in the borough's other races and were re-elected. State Assembly members Cathy Nolan (D-Ridgewood), who faced a tough primary fight, won and Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village) and Mark Weprin (D-Bayside) defeated their challengers.

The battle between 28-year political veteran Padavan and newcomer Lancman overshadowed the other contests in Queens this year. Padavan faced strong voter turnout in a decidedly Democratic district coupled with a push by the Democratic Party to end Republican control of the state Senate.

During exit polling Tuesday morning some voters in northeasern Queens said they had split their tickets while others said they had chosen Democratic candidates "down the line."

Turnout was high all over southeast Queens and there was a tangible Election Day electricity in the air. NAACP vans drove around St. Albans and Hollis blaring rap music urging residents to "Vote Today."

In Flushing, one election worker ascribed the large turnout to a change in attitudes.

"We are having a great turnout in this election district," Frances Scanlon said. "It has been full all day long. Suddenly voting has become hip."

Maydlean Thompson, an election worker at PS 40 in South Jamaica, said people lined up before the polls opened at 6 a.m.

"This was a very favorable turnout," she said. "There has been a steady flow all day. This just shows the power of the ballot - it's exciting."

She said a number of wheelchair-bound voters and seniors came out to cast ballots in the election as well as new Americans.

Marc Romain, who came from Haiti 20 years ago, said: "I'm voting for the first time. I'm a Democrat down the line."

The Asian American Legal Defense Fund monitored polling sites in Queens for possible discrimination against minority voters. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was also patrolling voting sites in southeast Queens for possible police intimidation.

However, some voters had difficulty casting their ballots because of a mixup in the state's Motor Votor registration system that made the state Department of Motor Vehicles votor records unavailable to election workers. Affected voters were given paper ballots to record their election choices.

Voters in northeastern Queens rejected a major proposal, the Transportation Bond Act. It was unclear as of press time Tuesday night whether the bond - which provides funding for the construction of a Second Ave. Subway - would pass.

Robert Kunkel of Whitestone voted for the bond act, he said, because "it sounded like something that will be good for the city." Kunkel said he thought the media had done an inadequate job informing voters about the act.

The presidential race between Democratic candidate Vice President Al Gore and Republican Texas Gov. George W. Bush took several different turns throughout the night on Election Day as political pundits flip-flopped projections on who had won key states, such as Florida, where a recount was to be held Wednesday to determine the new president.

Many election workers said the tight race brought back memories of John F. Kennedy's touch-and-go election in 1959.

Joan Hartin, an informational clerk at MS 67 in Little Neck, said "it hasn't been this busy since Kennedy."

Election worker Chester Bufferd said "there has been a tremendous turnout, just like when Kennedy ran."

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