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Third-party candidates in mix for Vallone seat

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While most council races in this overwhelmingly Democratic borough are expected to be decided in the Sept. 11 primary, four Democrats running for the Astoria seat have received the nomination of other parties and will have a spot on the November ballot.

Although the third-party nominations promise to extend a fierce political battle well beyond the primary, delays in the delivery of matching funds may produce an unbalanced race to succeed Council Speaker Peter Vallone (D-Astoria), who district also covers Long Island City and parts of Jackson Heights.

Six Democrats were originally vying for the seat, but only three - John Ciafone, Peter Vallone Jr. and Mike Zapiti - made it onto the ballot for the party primary.

Although three Democratic candidates were knocked out of the primary when signatures on their petitions were deemed invalid, two of them have secured the nomination of other parties.

Sandra Vassos will run in November on the Republican ticket, while Michael Mascetti will appear on the Independence line. George Poulos, a lawyer in Astoria, was the only candidate bumped off the primary ballot who will not appear in November under another party line.

Of the Democratic candidates who made it onto the primary ballot, Ciafone, a lawyer and longtime member of School Board 30, received the nod of the Liberals, and Vallone Jr., the son of the incumbent, was also nominated by the Conservative Party.

The only candidate who can be completely eliminated in the primary is Zapiti, an Astoria businessman relying exclusively on the Democratic ticket to make it into office.

Out of a total pool of seven candidates who originally sought the Council District 22 seat, the only candidate to bypass the Democratic Party altogether is Jerry Kann, who is running as a Green.

Vassos, a self-described lifelong Democrat running as a Republican, considers the party listed on the ballot to be insignificant in the ultimate outcome of the election.

"I don't think being on the Republican line as a Democrat or on the Democratic line as a Democrat would affect the election in any way," said Vassos, who has served for six years as the executive director of Athens College, an American school in Europe run from New York. "I think our electorate is much more savvy than to think about partisan politics."

But Vassos' stance flies in the face of conventional political wisdom in Queens, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans four-to-one and 11 out of 14 current members of the City Council are Democrats.

Mike Reich, the executive secretary of the Queens County Democratic Organization, which has endorsed Vallone Jr. in his bid to replace his father, believes the Democratic primary will determine the election despite the abundance of third-party candidates.

"The bottom line is, you're not going to win the district without having the Democratic line," he said.

Candidates registered with one party can appear on another party's ballot because of a state law that allows the party to designate a non-member to run on its line.

"Traditionally third parties seem to naturally ally with one side or the other," said Steven Richman, general counsel for the city Board of Elections.

Although third parties frequently nominate major party candidates aligned with their own political positions, some third party members believe cross-party nominations dilute the organizations' ideological standing.

"What the hell is a third party anyway?" asked Kann, the only candidate who exclusively sought a third-party nomination. "Is it just another spot on the ballot for these folks or do they really feel committed to the values and principles of the Liberal Party, for example?"

Of the three candidates contending for the Democratic nomination, only Vallone, Jr. has received matching funds from the city's Campaign Finance Board, giving him the maximum amount of money he will be allowed to spend in the campaign.

Funding for both Zapiti and Ciafone has been withheld due to non-compliance with finance board regulations, said Campaign Finance Board spokesman Michael Glickman.

"It's not going to be enough time," said Zapiti, who is expecting his funding to come through shortly but has had to hold off on advertising until it does. He said his funding was delayed due to an error on the part of the finance board, which told him he had submitted his records three days late, even though Zapiti said he had sent them overnight four days ahead of deadline.

Ciafone said he has not yet received funding because he still has to provide back-up information to the board.

Meanwhile, a member of Vallone Jr.'s camp has filed a complaint against Ciafone with the Campaign Finance Board, alleging that he distributed campaign literature which contains false quotes from major newspapers and printed an advertisement listing political endorsements he never received.

"They're making something out of nothing," said Ciafone. He said that listing endorsements was "an error" but contended the officials cited in his ad "in some way or another were working with us."

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

Posted 7:22 pm, October 10, 2011
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