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Three Queens pols battle for mayoralty

City Council...

By Adam Kramer

As the iron-fisted rule that has marked Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s reign over New York City moves toward an end, the race to replace the two-term mayor has heated up with three longtime Queens politicians kicking their campaigns into gear.

City Council Speaker Peter Vallone (D-Astoria) and city Comptroller Alan Hevesi, the borough’s Democratic hopefuls, have had their eyes on the job for some time.

Queens City Councilman Tom Ognibene (R-Middle Village) had announced his intentions to run, but will make a final decision on his campaign after his scheduled meeting with Republican media giant Michael Bloomberg, who is considering entering the race and is regarded as a formidable candidate.

The two Democrats will face stiff and formidable competition in the primaries from Democrats Mark Green, the city’s public advocate, and Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer.

On the Democratic side, the predicament for both candidates and the Queens Democratic machine is that their candidacies might drive a wedge into the party and ultimately hand the election to one of the other two contenders.

Ferrer also poses another threat for both Queens’ Democratic candidates as he has made strong inroads into the county and is expected to mount a strong campaign in the city’s most diverse borough. Political observers have said he could command a large percentage of the Hispanic and minority communities’ vote in Queens and across the city.

“It is a difficult dilemma for the Democratic delegation and there is no way of getting around it,” said Bernice Spitzer, a spokeswoman for the speaker. “Peter hopes that they [the Queens Democratic machine] choose him.”

Hank Morris, Hevesi’s spokesman, said even though many believe that Ferrer has the Bronx vote, it is still up for grabs. Manhattan is not totally in the Green camp and nobody has a stranglehold on Brooklyn, he said.

“Comptroller Hevesi expects to run strongly in Queens and the other boroughs,” he said, pointing out that the mayoral race will be decided on qualification and Hevesi “is the only one with real managerial qualifications.”

Henry McCoy, Democratic district leader for the area covering Bellerose, Queens Village, Cambria Heights, Hollis, St. Albans and parts of Jamaica, said he is not sure how the battle between Vallone and Hevesi will play out because “both are strong in the Queens Democratic machine.”

The borough’s Democratic leaders, under the leadership of former U.S. Rep. Tom Manton, who represented northern Queens and parts of the west, will determine which of the two Democrats they will endorse.

“There is always an agreement made,” McCoy said. “But it will be very hard this year.”

One advantage for Ferrer in Queens is Corey Bearak, he said. Bearak is the president of the Queens County Line Democratic Club and Ferrer’s legal counsel, which gives him strong ties to the borough.

“I think he has a pretty good rapport with the African-American community,” McCoy said, adding that state Comptroller Carl McCall, a candidate for governor, has already endorsed Ferrer.

According to 1990 Census figures, there are roughly 390,000 Hispanics living in Queens, making up 19.5 percent of its population, and there are about 400,000 blacks, or 20 percent of the borough’s population.

Both Democrats viewed education as one of the major concerns of not only the borough but the whole city. They both agreed that improving the educational environment of the public school system was a necessity.

Spitzer said education is one of the speaker’s priorities not just for Queens but for the whole city and he wants to earmark $4.1 billion from already existing property tax funds for public education. She said the funds will help to build more schools, a top priority for Queens, which is in dire need for more seats for its nearly 30,000-seat shortfall.

The money will also be used to update computers in the schools and provide for new text books, she said.

Hevesi’s spokesman said there needs to be a marked improvement in the school system and the performance of its students. He said the Giuliani administration has not paid much attention to the educational concerns of the city’s students.

Ognibene said the main concern for any of the mayoral candidates should be the continued reduction of crime. He said there should be no “retrenchment of the policy.”

“Even though many people have complained the police have been too aggressive,” he said, “I believe they need to do more.”

The Republican candidate agreed with the Democrats on the necessity of improving the city’s educational system. He said new schools needed to be built or extensions have to be added on to the existing school structures.

When asked how they would work with the City Council, which is expected to have 35 new members if term limits are not overturned, all three candidates stressed the importance of the mayor and council members working together for the good of the city.

“In a climate with an entirely new City Council [it is important] that we have a mayor who understands how things work on both sides of city hall,” Spitzer said. “Peter’s many years as a council member and long experience as the council speaker will help Queens and the rest of New York City through an enormous change in the city.”

Morris said Hevesi will “work collectively with the Council to achieve a balanced collegiate atmosphere.” He said out of all the candidates aspiring to the city’s top job, Hevesi has the best temperament to work with a City Council filled with freshmen members.

Even though Queens is losing its entire delegation, Morris said it will not suffer too much because it will remain the second-largest group after the Brooklyn constituency.

Ognibene said the new members of the City Council will be inexperienced, but there will be some very good people elected. He said in the first year as the new members learn the inner workings of the Council, the mayor will have more control, but ultimately the Council will be as powerful as ever.

Reporters Kathianne Boniello and Betsy Scheinbart contributed to this story.

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

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