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Tight battle for Abel seat nears end

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The long battle for City Councilman Mike Abel’s (R-Bayside) 19th Council District seat was almost over this week as the city Board of Elections prepared to count about 600 absentee ballots in the tight race between Democrat Tony Avella and Republican Dennis Saffran.

Only 409 votes separate Avella, a longtime civic activist from Whitestone who has run for the seat unsuccessfully twice before, and Saffran, who was trailing after last week’s general election. Unofficial results show Avella garnered 49 percent of the vote, while Saffran got 48 percent.

Both candidates acknowledged Monday evening the slim, outside chance that the roughly 641 absentee ballots scheduled to be counted Nov. 14 could swing the contest in favor of Saffran.

Saffran, a Republican lawyer from Douglaston, said he was being “realistic” about his chances but would call Avella to concede this week if the preliminary election results did not show a shift in his favor.

Saffran said “it’s unlikely” the election results would change “but it’s not outside the realm of possibility.”

Saffran said he was not sure what he would do if the unofficial results remain unchanged but he would seek to remain active in the community.

Avella said he was waiting for the Board of Elections to officially certify the Nov. 6 vote before moving ahead with plans for his first term as a city councilman.

“It’s beginning to sink in,” Avella said Monday night of his apparent victory.

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.

Handily beating four other Democrats in a Sept. 25 primary, Avella based his campaign on a lengthy record of public service and activism in the district on issues like traffic, graffiti and education.

A fixture in the district, Avella appeared to lead his Republican challenger throughout the race. But the rising popularity in Queens of Republican mayoral candidate Michael Bloomberg led some to question whether Saffran would be carried on Bloomberg’s coattails victory.

Abel has held the seat since 1991 and like the rest of the Queens city council delegation is prohibited from running for office this year because of the city’s term limits law. Abel was one of only three Queens Republicans in the City Council.

Though the 19th Council District is more Democratic than Republican, Abel’s successes and the popularity here of current Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani led some to believe the Republicans could retain the district.

With success apparently at hand, Avella said Monday evening he wants to focus on a number of issues in the northeast Queens council district he would represent.

“Education, of course,” he said, naming the problems he expects to deal with. “Changing the zoning to preserve the quality of life in northeast Queens; creating a new police precinct for Bay Terrace, College Point and Whitestone; traffic issues, graffiti.”

Avella said while he does not want to interfere with the remainder of Abel’s term in office, which lasts until Dec. 31, Avella said he could be reached by phone at 762-0091, by fax at 762-0083 or by mail at Tony Avella, c/o PO Box 570038, Whitestone, NY 11357.

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

Posted 7:28 pm, October 10, 2011
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