With city council candidates in all five boroughs sparring to knock each other off the ballot, the race for Morton Povmans 24th District seat has been notable for the absence of such hostility.
After a hectic beginning to the campaign that saw Povmans chief of staff, Jeff Gottlieb and community activist Morshed Alam drop out, all has been quiet for the four candidates vying for the seat that represents northern Forest Hills, southern Flushing, Kew Gardens Hills, Fresh Meadows, Briarwood and Jamaica Estates.
Democratic candidates for the term-limited Povmans seat are: James Gennaro, the senior environmental policy adviser for the City Council; Barry Grodenchik, chief administrative officer to Borough President Claire Shulman; and David Reich, chief of staff and legal counsel to state Sen. Seymour Lachman (D-Brooklyn). Lori Zett, a labor activist with a masters degree in international relations from Columbia University, who is running as a Green Party candidate.
Gennaro called the ballot challenges across the city silly games, saying they took the decision process out of the voters hands.
Reich said there were no ballot challenges in the 24th District race because the belief was on all sides that every single candidate got the required number of signatures.
Instead of fighting to exclude each other, the candidates are focusing on distinguishing themselves from one another in a race where they agree on the main issues. In interviews earlier this week, the three Democratic candidates spoke of education, public safety and senior services as key problems facing the district.
School overcrowding is a very important issue for Queens, said Grodenchik. Noting the Board of Educations recent announcement that it underestimated its construction budget by nearly $3 billion, he added, Were short 30,000 seats and were going to bear the brunt of the shortfalls in the construction budget.
Gennaro also spoke of the importance of easing school overcrowding. We have to have a certified teacher in every classroom and manageable class sizes, he said. Every student has a right to this.
Reich said the Board of Education should be disbanded. Its not accountable to anybody, he said. Every time we turn around theres another scandal, another problem. In 1993, Queens was short 23,000 seats. Now its 30,000. Were moving in the wrong direction.
In accord on the main district concerns, the candidates sought to emerge from the pack by concentrating on their levels of experience.
The differences in the candidates are in experience, said Grodenchik. I have been running borough hall for Claire Shulman for 10 years and thats given me a wealth of experience. I am better informed on a broad range of issues than my opponents.
Gennaro felt that his background would best serve the residents of the 24th Council District. Im the only one with any city council experience whatsoever, he said. Next year, in a council that will be full of new members, it will be important to have people who have a background in the institution.
Reich views his qualifications as the strongest for the job. I am the only one of the three thats trained in the law, he said. Ive written, drafted, analyzed and researched hundred of bills.
Zett, the Green Party candidate, said her views of government differ significantly from those of her opponents.
We think democracy is voting once every four years, which is not the way it is, she said. I think weve forgotten how to be a democracy. Weve become government by money and for money.
Gennaro and Grodenchik have both collected significant endorsements. Shulmans chief administrator has garnered the support of several influential Queens Democrats, including the borough president, state Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn (D-Flushing), Povman and more than 30 labor unions, including SEIU 1999, the union representing New York Citys health and hospital workers, and the United Federation of Teachers.
Gennaro, a member of the CUNY faculty union, has had less luck with the citys large unions, but has been endorsed by former Mayor Ed Koch and by the environmental attorney, Robert Kennedy Jr.
While Gennaro and Grodenchik trumpeted their endorsements, Reich highlighted his lack of ties to politicians and organizations. Im independent. Endorsements dont mean anything, he said. Theyre not going to bring people out to vote. Ill only be responsible to the community. And thats the only way I would have it.
Armed with their experiences, knowledge of community issues, and the backing of their endorsers, the candidates also have a significant amount of money at their disposal to win voters hearts.
Despite running what he termed a grassroots campaign, Gennaro raised more money than Grodenchik, who has the support of the Queens Democratic organization, headed by county leader Thomas Manton.
I out-raised the machine candidate and thats very significant, he said. I did my best to reach out to as diverse a group as I could and take my message to them and people supported me and contributed to me based on my campaign and my message.
Gennaro raised $89,678, while Grodenchik amassed $84,800 in campaign donations, according to the latest figures available from the New York City Campaign Finance Board. Reich, who collected $27,920, said he only received donations from individuals.
Zett, who has raised only $40, said even though running without money is difficult, it is also liberating.
I think Im there mainly to say things that other people dont say, she said. I dont have to worry about saying what the powers that be want me to say.
Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.
©2001 Community News Group
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