Today’s news:

Avella wins Democratic nod for Council

The race for City Councilman Mike Abel’s (D-Bayside) seat has come down to a two-man contest after Democratic nominee Tony Avella triumphed over four other hopefuls in the Sept. 25 primary to face Republican Dennis Saffran in the general election, according to early returns.

The primary election, originally scheduled for Sept. 11, was hampered by any number of unforeseen circumstances after it was canceled in the wake of the World Trade Center attack, including rain on the rescheduled Primary Day and extensive traffic delays that brought Queens’ roads to a standstill.

Four of the five Democrats running to replace the term-limited Abel said the two-week moratorium on campaigning after the terrorist attacks stymied their campaigns. Avella got 29 percent of the vote, according to unofficial returns compiled by the Associated Press, leaving political newcomer John Frank, labor leader Arthur Cheliotes, civic leader Jerry Iannece and activist Joyce Shepard behind.

Although Cheliotes and Iannece could continue their campaigns on third-party lines until the general election in November, both said this week they had decided against such a move.

The third time was the charm for Avella, whose victory last week marked the end of a losing streak for the 19th Council District seat. Avella ran unsuccessfully before in 1992, when the seat was created as part of redistricting, and in the Democratic primary in 1997.

“We’re elated,” Avella said of his win. “We’re very pleased with the support we received throughout the district.”

Abel, one of three Queens Republicans in the City Council, has been in office for nearly 10 years and is prohibited from seeking a third term under the city’s 1993 term limits law. Abel announced his candidacy in the borough president’s race in November 1999, but dropped out earlier this year due to a lack of funds.

The 19th Council District covers most of northeast Queens and includes the communities of Bayside, Bay Terrace, Whitestone, College Point, Malba, Douglas Manor, Beechhurst, and parts of Douglaston, Little Neck, Auburndale, Linden Hill, and Murray Hill.

One of the most surprising factors in the primary race for Abel’s seat was the number of voters who backed Frank, a political neophyte who publicly admitted to never attending a city council meeting. Frank got about 24 percent of the vote, beating out labor leader Cheliotes for second place.

His competitors credited Frank’s door-to-door campaigning for his success. Frank has said he knocked on 13,000 doors during the campaign, and in the days before the first primary sent voters a video tape outlining his campaign platform.

Frank credited his volunteers as well as his door-to-door work for his success at the polls last week.

“I loved every minute of it,” he said. “I actually thought we had a real good shot at winning.”

Cheliotes, who had the backing of a number of labor groups and had raised large amounts of money for the campaign, said he was disappointed with the results.

“I think after Sept. 11 the momentum I had was gone,” he said Monday. Cheliotes said he was pleased to be on the Working Families Party line after the Democratic primary loss, but “I don’t think they have any illusions about my being able to win on that line.”

Iannece, the only civic leader in the race, wound up fourth in the five-person contest. He had run for the seat against Abel once before, in 1997, and lost.

“I was very surprised,” he said Monday. “We were banking on a bigger turnout.”

Iannece said that even though he could still run on the Liberal Party line, he was “very discouraged.” The civic leader also said he counted on a stronger presence by Shepard, the only woman in the race and the only Jew, to take more votes away from front-runner Avella.

Unofficial returns from the Associated Press showed Shepard in last place after the primary election. Shepard, long at odds with Avella, congratulated him on the win.

“I’m happy that Tony Avella won above Frank and Cheliotes because at least Tony Avella gave to his community, and that’s more than the others did,” Shepard said. She has accused Cheliotes, who moved to the district about two years ago, of being a carpet bagger and has said Frank was unfamiliar with the community.

Summing up a common theme among her competitors after the Sept. 25 primary, Shepard said: “I’m just grateful my family is intact and I just count my blessings and thank everybody. An election is no big deal when so many have lost loved ones at the World Trade Center.”

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

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