Flushing activist challenges for assembly seat

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In a crowded field of seven candidates seeking to become Flushing’s new assembly representative, Richard Jannaccio is quick to point to his experience as a civic leader as setting him apart.

“You don’t get paid for being an activist, but I think it’s the thing that gives me the most credentials,” said Jannaccio, 48. “It has allowed me to prove not only to others but also to myself that I’m capable of getting people together to accomplish things.”

Jannaccio, president of the West Flushing Civic Association, is in the midst of his third political run in his campaign for the newly created 22nd Assembly District.

In 1999, he ran for the state Senate in a special election that was ultimately won by Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone). Last year he lost the Democratic primary to now Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing).

Democratic district leader Ethel Chen, Republican district leader Meilin Tan, Democrat political aide Barry Grodenchik, Democratic political newcomer John Albert, Green Party candidate Evergreen Chou and Democratic businessman Jimmy Meng also are contending for the new seat, which was carved out in the redistricting process.

Jannaccio, a Flushing native, is running in a district which is 53.3 percent Asian, 20.1 percent white, 18.7 percent Hispanic and 4.5 percent black, according to the 2000 Census.

Jannaccio, who comes from a science and journalism background, pointed to his investigation of a gas station project in Flushing in the late ‘90s as an example of his civic leadership.

A member of his civic noticed digging at the corner of Elder Avenue and Main Street as part of a gas station project. Jannaccio contacted the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

“They found this was listed on its registry of toxic sites,” Jannaccio said. “They found that it wasn’t supposed to be dug up in the first place.”

As a result, the gas station project was canceled, and a parking lot was built in its place.

Questioning development is at the forefront of the Jannaccio’s agenda.

“It’s not so much that Flushing’s overdeveloped, it’s inappropriately developed,” Jannaccio said. “Obviously, we need more housing. But at the same time you can’t overbuild beyond the infrastructure. It can’t be something that dramatically changes that character of neighborho­ods.”

Jannaccio criticized Community Board 7, of which he is a member, for granting too many variances to developers and suggesting the city consider changing the zoning in downtown Flushing to allow more development.

Jannaccio said he thought the businesses in the downtown Flushing area were too homogenous.

“I’m looking to create a Flushing community that the community wants to see,” he said. “At this point what we are seeing is that people who live within a block of Main Street are going to supermarkets outside of the Flushing area. They don’t feel they are getting what they want here.”

In order to encourage more diverse businesses, Jannaccio said the state needs to examine ways of driving down rents.

“We need some kind of commercial rent control,” he said.

Jannaccio also has made reforming Albany a major focus of his campaign.

The candidate said he wanted the state to take the national initiative in issues such as universal health care. But he added that he thought the key to such changes was the structure of the state’s government itself

He chided Gov. George Pataki, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and state Sen. Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Saratoga Springs) for not instituting term limits.

Jannaccio argued that term limits were essential to bringing more political power to Queens.

“You have Sheldon Silver, Bruno and Pataki in control. Your local legislator can fight for years just to have a bill brought to the floor. The people who elected Sheldon Silver in Lower Manhattan have more power than the rest of us,” Jannaccio said.

“The people of Flushing need a chance to just be heard.”

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

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