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Crowded field energizes race for Vallone Sr. seat

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After years of unopposed contests in the 22nd Council District, where City Council Speaker Peter Vallone (D-Astoria) has held a seat since 1974, the field has exploded with five candidates eager to fill the shoes left behind by the term-limited politician.

Remaining in the race from the Democratic primary ballot are Peter Vallone Jr., the son of the incumbent who won the party nod with 56 percent of the vote, and John Ciafone, an attorney and longtime member of School Board 30 who pulled in 34 percent and is now running on the Liberal Party line. Local business owner Mike Zapiti drew the fewest votes in the primary and bowed out of the race.

Although school director Sandra Vassos is running on the Republican line, she is a registered Democrat who was pushed off the Democratic primary ballot when some of her petition signatures were disqualified in court challenges.

The two remaining candidates have run exclusively on third-party lines — Jerry Kann as a Green and Michael Mascitti with the Independence Party.

District 22 primarily covers Astoria, but also includes parts of Long Island City and Jackson Heights.

Of the five, only Vallone, Ciafone and Vassos consider themselves serious contenders for the seat. Although all are registered Democrats who stress they are running as Democrats, only Vallone will actually be listed on the ballot under the Democratic line.

Kann and Mascitti say they are running to voice their platforms and inject a true sense of democracy into the election process, but both admit their chances of winning the election are slim.

Vallone, a lawyer in private practice with his father and brother who has an extensive record of volunteering for the community — most notably as pro-bono counsel for CHOKE, an area environmental group — has long been considered a shoo-in to succeed his father in the Council.

He is not taking anything for granted, however.

“I think that every election is a challenge,” he said. “I intend to campaign as hard as possible and to make sure that the community makes an informed choice.”

The crowded field has created a more dynamic race, providing voters with an unprecedented degree of choice for a council seat that had been occupied by one man for more than 25 years.

Still, the World Trade Center disaster pushed back the primary election by two weeks, compressing the time available for campaigning and prompting candidates to scale back their efforts, which may have hindered their offensive.

Vassos and Ciafone both said the elder Vallone’s defeat in the Democratic mayoral primary has more clearly distinguished the father from the son, which they said would prevent voters from believing they were voting for Vallone Sr. in the council race.

Although Ciafone lost the primary to Vallone Jr., he said he is still running an aggressive campaign for the general election.

“For the time remaining, we’re going to try to increase the intensity and hopefully run a successful campaign,” Ciafone said.

Vassos, who has been heavily campaigning since the summer despite her removal from primary contention, is touting the Republican-Democrat alliance as an asset to her candidacy, because it demonstrates bipartisan support for her council bid.

“We don’t always agree on certain very defined issues,” Vassos said of her Republican backers. “Post Sept. 11, it’s actually a positive thing to be perceived as bipartisan or not partisan at all.”

Kann, a free-lance copy-editor who has run an aggressive campaign through much of the year despite his underdog status, said he believes “the system needs a lot of shaking up” and has offered suggestions to render the political process more democratic.

“Nobody thought David had a chance against Goliath,” Kann said. “I know my odds are very, very, very long, but I really think that I’ve got more of a program than the other candidates.”

Mascitti, a school teacher in Long Island City, said he chose to run in direct response his observation in 1997 that Vallone Sr. had been running unopposed for the seat.

“It just really upset me that we have a democracy but were really only offered one candidate,” he said.

In this year’s race, such problems have been all but forgotten.

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

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