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Four compete for Vallone’s council seat

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Peter Vallone Jr. may possess the best-known political pedigree,...

By Dustin Brown

While the name of one candidate vying for City Council Speaker Peter Vallone’s seat has been known in Queens for decades, his opponents in the race aren’t worried about playing catchup.

Peter Vallone Jr. may possess the best-known political pedigree, but fellow Democrats Mike Zapiti and John Ciafone as well as Green Party candidate Jerry Kann have every intention of trumping his bid to fill the seat his father and namesake has held since 1974.

Forced by term limits to vacate his 22nd District seat, which includes Astoria and Long Island City, Vallone Sr. has set his own sights on the mayoralty.

Though the younger Vallone and his competitors agree that name recognition and the notion of a father-son succession will likely bolster his campaign, he faces competition from prominent community figures who are undaunted by Vallone’s celebrity.

They also have attained a modest level of celebrity themselves. Zapiti’s name darts periodically along 31st Street on the roof of a car owned by his driving school. Ciafone is the only candidate whose name has already graced a ballot, having been elected twice to Community School Board 30. Kann has little name recognition but stands apart in ideology with his Green Party affiliation.

Vallone, 40, is the latest in a line of public servants that began with his grandfather, who was a judge, and continued with his father’s nearly three-decade tenure on City Council.

“From them I learned a respect for public service,” Vallone Jr. said. “Now I would like to use what I’ve learned to continue in that tradition of service and do what I can to help this community in its upcoming battles.”

Vallone considers the main issues to be tackling the influx of power plants in western Queens, cracking down on crime, and improving the local school system. He has already amassed considerable experience in these arenas as pro-bono council for the community group CHOKE, which was founded to fight the power plants, and as a former assistant district attorney in Manhattan.

“Nobody has the experience in city politics that I have that will enable me to hit the ground running in fighting these things like the power plants,” Vallone said.

Although his legacy doesn’t match Vallone’s, Mike Zapiti has created a reputation all his own through a prosperous business on 31st Street in Astoria. Zapiti, 74, moved to the city from Greece at the end of 1946 and nearly two decades later opened his Queens business, an auto school and insurance agency that now serves thousands of customers. He also hosts a talk show on the local Greek community television station.

Having lived in the neighborhood for nearly four decades, Zapiti feels strongly about improving local quality of life, most notably in education, safety, and cleanliness.

“I'm running to make Astoria a better place to live,” he said. “Astoria did a lot of things good for me, so I want to return the favor.”

Zapiti has, for some time, immersed himself in local political affairs through interviews with government officials on his program, including the man whose seat he is seeking, Peter Vallone Sr.

“Most of the politicians come out with the same stories, the same things as we know,” Zapiti said. “I don’t promise anything. I do it.”

John Ciafone, 30, is no stranger to government, having served on Community School Board 30 for the past five years, currently as its vice president. Ciafone boasts a perfect attendance record for the length of his service, which he said demonstrates the extent of his commitment to the people who elected him.

“Of the candidates from my area that are running in my district, I’m the only one with a record,” he said. “I’m the only one who’s been elected.”

Ciafone said he has watched his childhood friends and contemporaries driven out of the neighborhood by escalating rents, which is only one of many problems he intends to fight on the Council. His priorities also include cleaning up the local neighborhood and improving local subway service.

“I’m running because I was born and raised in this community, and I intend to live here for the rest of my life,” said Ciafone, a lawyer based in Astoria.

Although Jerry Kann, 40, has lived in the area only a fraction as long as any of his opponents, his campaign was inspired by his passion for reforming government.

“I think that the whole system really needs some shaking up,” Kann said. “I don’t think there is much of a connection between government and the people who are being governed.”

Like other Greens, Kann believes local community boards should be elected by the public rather than appointed by government officials. He also said politicians need to stay in better touch with their constituents.

“Were I elected, I would want to have frequent meetings, not just in the standard venues, but at different places all over the district, and really just tramp the streets and find out what people want,” he said.

Kann, a six-year resident of Astoria, touted his lack of political experience as one of his greatest strengths.

“Politics is too important to leave to the politicians,” he said. “I think we’ve done that far too long.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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