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Eagan runs uphill race in battle vs. Gioia

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In a city council race where the Democratic Party has all but declared victory, an enthusiastic third-party underdog is striving to show that the finish line has yet to be crossed.

Eric Gioia won a decisive victory in September’s Democratic primary for City Councilman Walter McCaffrey’s (D-Woodside) 26th District seat, pulling ahead in a crowded field of five well-qualified candidates with 43 percent of the vote, nearly 2 1/2 times the share of his closest competitors.

In the overwhelmingly Democratic district, which stretches from Long Island City through Sunnyside, Woodside and Maspeth, winning the Democratic primary is considered tantamount to capturing the seat itself, with the general election regarded as little more than a formality.

But Green Party candidate Ann Eagan is waging a passionate campaign with the hope of defying that convention, striving in the final days before the election to show the voters there is an alternative on Nov. 6.

“At least people will know there’s a Green candidate,” said Eagan, who has been campaigning for months but recently stepped up her efforts to inform people of her candidacy. “They know there’s a choice from the other party.”

Eagan acknowledged the obstacles she faces in the election, saying the Democrats who “own the neighborhood” might consider her candidacy to merely be a “slight annoyance.”

But she refused to speculate about what her chances of winning the election may be because she said her campaign has flourished in recent weeks as more people have expressed interest in her candidacy.

Among Eagan’s top priorities are housing reform – to protect New Yorkers from severely escalating rents – and the reduction of pollution through the use of more efficient forms of energy. She believes the events of Sept. 11 greatly magnified problems that already existed in the city.

Gioia, a lawyer who has served in the Clinton White House and on the presidential campaign of Al Gore, said his strategy has not changed since the primary ended, with its focus centered on “building better schools, making the streets safer, and finding ways for people to live more affordably.”

But the Woodside native also faces an added task to “fulfill this mandate that I’ve been given” by way of the Democratic primary.

“This is a Democratic town and it’s a Democratic neighborhood, and to win by a 3-to-1 margin is nothing short of a mandate,” he said.

Acknowledging the daunting tasks city leaders will face in the wake of the World Trade Center attack, Gioia compared his desire to serve in the City Council to an athlete who “wants the ball during the most critical minutes of the game.”

“The penalty for not leading is being led by someone else,” he said. “The only justification to ever be in public office is if you feel you’re the best person at the time, the most qualified person at the time to lead others, to lead your neighbors.”

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

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