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Gioia sworn into office at crowded celebration

Standing in the same auditorium where only two decades ago he used to sit as an elementary school student, City Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Woodside) took the oath of office Saturday evening before a boisterous standing-room-only crowd of supporters.

The celebratory inauguration harked back to the message of neighborhood unity with which Gioia enthusiastically accosted voters during his months of campaigning in the 26th Council District, which covers Woodside, Sunnyside and parts of Long Island City and Maspeth.

“Shoe leather wins city council races, and no one wore out more shoes than Eric Gioia,” said Council Speaker Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan), one of better than a dozen politicians and local leaders who spoke to welcome Gioia into office.

Running what Miller described as “the most disciplined campaign in the history of city council races,” Gioia pounded the pavement with the slogan, “From the neighborhood, for the neighborhood,” emphasizing the need to preserve the character of Woodside and the surrounding communities.

“I ran because I wanted to ensure that every child in this city is able to live their dreams the way I did,” Gioia said in his inaugural address, repeating a central theme of his campaign.

Gioia received more than twice the votes of any of his four opponents in September’s Democratic primary. He ultimately won the seat by the largest margin in the city at 93 percent, facing a Green Party candidate but no Republican opposition.

His neighbors continued to show their support for his message Saturday night, filling more than 400 seats in the auditorium of PS 11 on Skillman Avenue and overflowing through the doors in the back.

With constituents from every end of the district getting their moment in the spotlight, the inauguration was as much a celebration of the community’s spirit as an occasion to honor its newly elected councilman.

“We’re going to make this neighborhood a better place, we’re going to make this city a better place,” Gioia said. “With your help, we will get it done.”

The celebration began with the hall roaring to the music of the gospel choir from the Center of Hope International Church in Long Island City, but grew solemn when the flag-bearing children from the Sunnyside Drum Corps led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance and Star Spangled Banner.

Students from PS 11 stood on stage to give Gioia a certificate of appreciation to their alumnus, and the councilman’s third-grade teacher received a special greeting from her former student as he stood to give his inaugural address.

At 28, Gioia is one of the youngest representatives to the City Council, a fact that did not elude the veteran officials who spoke.

“He’s a pretty young guy for this thing,” Queens Democratic Party Chairman Tom Manton said after remarking on Gioia’s age.

State Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Ridgewood) said she remembered having met Gioia during her first term in office when he was a student at PS 11.

“I should have realized then that he was marked for success,” she said.

But his more experienced colleagues were quick to point out that youth does not preclude experience. A graduate of the law school at Georgetown University, Gioia worked in Bill Clinton’s White House and Al Gore’s presidential campaign in New York state.

“He wasn’t just plucked out of nowhere with a silver spoon in his mouth,” U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. “Eric got to the Council the old-fashioned way — he earned it.”

Other politicians who spoke included Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, former Public Advocate Mark Green, state Sen. George Onorato (D-Astoria), state Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) and state Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Maspeth).

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

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