Primary challenge pits Maloney vs. Brauer

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The race for Congress in Astoria already bears the key components of a dramatic political contest: a well-regarded incumbent, an upstart challenger and stinging shots of criticism.

But the September Democratic primary may ultimately lack the most important feature: competition.

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria), a 10-year incumbent, is facing a challenge from Jeff Brauer, the 33-year-old founder of a quirky publishing house, to represent Astoria, part of Long Island City and the Upper East Side of Manhattan in the 14th Congressional District. Newly redrawn boundaries this year have expanded the Queens segment of the district to include more of Astoria. A Republican, Anton Srdanovic, faces no primary and will appear on the ballot in November’s general election.

But Brauer is still fighting in court to get his name on the ballot for the Democratic primary Sept. 10.

The issue at hand is whether or not he is actually a member of the Democratic Party.

In June, Brauer changed his voter registration from his grandfather’s 56th Street apartment in Manhattan, where he was not enrolled in any party, to his own pad in Westchester County, where he signed up as a Democrat.

Maloney’s attorneys argued that election law required Brauer to have changed his enrollment by October 2001 to run this year, but Brauer countered that someone who moves out of the city is exempted from that rule — a position supported by counsel for the state Board of Elections.

“As far as we’re concerned, he’s on the ballot,” said city Board of Elections spokeswoman Naomi Bernstein.

The courts have disagreed. A State Supreme Court ruling ordered that Brauer be knocked off the ballot, a decision the Appellate Division upheld. Brauer’s case was scheduled to go before the Court of Appeals in Albany on Wednesday.

Brauer cites the legal struggle to get his name on the ballot as the most frustrating part of a campaign that has otherwise been “an extraordinary experience.”

“It’s a political process,” he said. “It has absolutely nothing to do with the face of the law.”

But Maloney responded that the matter must be settled in court to prevent people from toying with election law.

“In New York the law is that it protects parties. It protects having people play games in elections,” she said. “Let the courts decide.”

Maloney: Helping “Lots of People”

Maloney, a resident of the Upper East Side, has her own Cinderella tale of defying the odds to beat out an incumbent, which she did in 1992 when she won her first congressional race after leaving her post as a city councilwoman.

“I was so broke, no one believed I could win,” she said during an interview at the TimesLedger offices Friday.

But win she did, having decided to rise from city government to the national scene after observing that “federal policy impacts greatly on what you can do in the city.”

That principle has guided many of her battles during her tenure in Congress, where she has fought for federal dollars to fund infrastructure improvements like the 63rd Street connector — a long-unfinished subway tunnel beneath the East River that finally opened for service this year — and the East Side access for the Long Island Railroad.

“I think it’s important not only to help people but to invest in infrastruc­ture,” she said.

Over the past year Maloney, 52, said she has been campaigning alongside the city’s entire congressional delegation to secure adequate federal assistance to help the city recover from the devastating losses that stemmed from Sept. 11.

She has two staff members in her Queens office devoted to constituent services in the borough, which she said is vital to her post because “each and every day you can help lots of people.”

Maloney said she has worked extensively on such issues as veterans’ benefits, Social Security, Medicaid and affordable housing, and has provided funding for such Queens programs as the Variety Boys and Girls Club, a sea wall reconstruction project in Queensbridge Park and transportation improvements to Long Island City.

“Every day I walk into the Capitol, my heart beats with excitement,” she said.

Brauer: Constituents as Clients

Brauer began considering a run for office about two years ago, having been struck by the lack of competition in the city’s political contests. He found that many of the attributes that made him a successful publisher would also serve him as a political figure.

“You’re marketing a product — in this case yourself — you’re creating a product ... and you’re distributing it,” he said in an interview Friday at his office in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Brauer founded On Your Own Publications as a law student in 1994, which he launched by printing books and then selling them around Manhattan on a pushcart. The company has grown into a prominent publisher of popular fringe titles like “Zany’s New York City Apartment Guide” and “Sexy New York City.”

He models himself after Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, each of whom turned to politics after enjoying successful careers as an attorney or a businessman. Brauer is both, and he considers such experience vital to creating a responsive government.

“If we win this, our constituents will become our clients,” he said.

After deciding to run for office he collected signatures to get on the ballot by setting up tables to hear constituents’ concerns and ask people why they love New York.

He describes himself as uniquely qualified to represent Queens’ multi-ethnic population, speaking not only Chinese and Spanish but also some Russian and Arabic.

He cites education and prescription drug benefits for the elderly as two of his central issues but also plans to fight for power plants to clean up their emissions.

“The public schools here, they’re not providing basic educational skills that people need to find jobs and hold jobs and pay rent,” he said.

Brauer said he is running in part because of the failings he sees in Maloney, whom he often refers to as “the lady I’m running against.”

“When you’re around for a long time, after a while you take your job for granted,” he said. “She doesn’t walk around the district. I like putting on my sneakers and hanging around at pizza shops.”

But Maloney countered that Brauer has stepped into his campaign without any record of having served the community.

“I think that public service, if it’s done honorably and fairly, is a noble, wonderful thing to do,” she said in response to his criticism. “What has he done to help the community? So far, all he’s done is criticize.”

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

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