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Small donations propel Leffler fund-raising lead

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By Adam Kramer

City Councilman Sheldon Leffler (D-Hollis) has a slight lead over the pack of eight other borough president hopefuls in raising funds for the race to succeed Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, who cannot seek re-election due to term limits.

According to the Campaign Finance Board, which tracks the contributions and expenditures of each candidate for elected city offices, Leffler had $431,115 — including matching funds — in his war chest as of Jan. 11, the first deadline of the year for candidates’ campaign finance disclosures.

His total represents the contributions made to his campaign plus the money given to his campaign as part of the city’s matching fund program minus expenditures

Frank Barry, a spokesman for the Campaign Finance Board in Manhattan, said the city matches every $1 donated to candidates with $4 up to $250 per individual contribution. He said if an individual donates $500 to the candidate, $250 is eligible to be matched by the city and the political contender receives $1,000 in matching funds.

Leffler has raised a total of $122,128 for his borough presidency run, while spending $10,669. Of the money Leffler has raised, $79,914 qualified for the city’s matching funds program.

The total in each candidate’s campaign chest is determined by all the money the candidate has raised plus matching funds after expenditures have been subtracted.

“I think my campaign epitomizes what the framers of the matching fund program had in mind,” Leffler said. “My average contribution has been very modest. My median contribution is in the $50 range.”

He said he is running a grassroots effort and was being supported in his borough presidency campaign by the average citizen.

Leffler had a slight edge in his war chest over another Democrat, Queens’ former Board of Education representative Carol Gresser with $423,022. They were followed by City Councilwoman Helen Marshall (D-East Elmhurst) with $204,747, state Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Rockaway) with $173,502 and Republican Councilman Al Stabile (R-Ozone Park) with $148,196. Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) was in sixth place at $98,346 and Councilman Mike Abel (R-Bayside) was ranked seventh at $68,733. State Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio (D-Richmond Hill) and community activist Haydee Zambrana have not yet filed with the Campaign Finance Board.

The majority of the 994 contributions — mostly small donations — to Leffler’s campaign came from within his council district, which stretches from Hollis to Bellerose and from Queens Village to New Hyde Park. The district also covers Floral Park and parts of Douglaston and Little Neck.

The largest donations to his campaign were from family members, who gave a total of $10,050 with contributions ranging from $100 to $4,000.

The largest non-familial donation to Leffler’s run at the borough presidency was $3,000 from Pickman of the Pickman Realty Corporation in Forest Hills. Pickman was followed by Leonard Litwin of New Hyde Park, who contributed $1,500 and Guy Pascal of South Carolina, who kicked in $1,000.

“I am not indebted to any special interests,” Leffler said. “There are no large interests with special concerns before the borough president that are supporting my campaign. The contributions are sufficiently modest that there is absolutely no reason to do anything in office to pay back a contributor at the expense of the public interest.”

Two of the better known contributors to Leffler’s campaign were the public relations giant Howard Rubenstein, who gave $500, and Carlisle Towery, the president of the Greater Development Corporation, who donated $650.

Even though Leffler received a few big donations, he was able to amass his war chest with the majority of donations in the $25 to $150 range.

Leffler received $8,849 from corporations before the November 1998 deadline when a referendum made it illegal for political candidates to accept contributions from companies. The two largest donations came from TDC Development and Construction in Elmhurst, which donated $1,000, and the NY Malayallee Sports Club in Douglaston, which contributed $900 to Leffler’s campaign.

Political action committees donated $5,500 to his campaign. According to the Campaign Finance Board, politicians can accept PAC money if the PAC is registered with them.

Leffler’s three largest PAC donations came from the International Longshoreman Association, which gave $1,000; Uniformed Fire Officers Association, which donated $650; and Local 237 Teamsters, which gave $500.

The maximum amount any candidate can spend in the borough presidency race is $1,177,000 for the primary and the same amount again for the general election. The cap on public matching funds is $647,350.

Barry said matching funds are only available for donations from individuals who live in the five boroughs. A political action committee and individual donations from people from outside the city are not eligible for matching funds.

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

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