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Leffler built political base on strong roots in Queens

As the city’s Campaign Finance Board and the Manhattan district attorney’s office began investigating the campaign finances of then-City Councilman Sheldon Leffler in August 2001, the candidate for Queens borough president choked back tears while talking about his father in an interview with the TimesLedger Newspapers.

Leffler’s father, who ran a trucking business in Jamaica, bought property from Fred Stark, in a family friendship that continued into the next generation.

Just last week, Leffler, 60, was indicted on charges he conspired with Hollis real estate magnate and family friend Rita Stark to claim $40,000 in matching campaign funds in his unsuccessful bid for borough president in 2001.

Leffler, a Democrat, was forced out of the City Council that year by term limits after representing the communities of Hollis Hills, Queens Village, Little Neck, Douglaston, Bayside, Bellerose, Floral Park, Glen Oaks, Hollis, and Fresh Meadows for 24 years.

He decided to run for borough president and during an interview with several members of the TimesLedger staff about his candidacy he was overcome with emotion as he described his father’s hopes for him.

The 13-count indictment against Leffler surprised many people, and one borough political insider suggested an inequity in the Campaign Finance Board’s decision to turn the case over to the Manhattan district attorney. One example was former city Comptroller Alan Hevesi, who was fined $200,000 by the board rather than charged, during his unsuccessful 2001 mayoral race for accepting his consultant’s services and the use of the consultant’s offices as campaign donations.

But Hevesi, a staunch member of the Queens Democratic machine may have received some help from his friends that Leffler, who has traditionally been a party outsider, may not have gotten, one political observer said.

A Jamaica High alumnus, Leffler graduated from Princeton University and Harvard Law School. He lives in Hollis Hills with his wife, Joy Silver.

Leffler earned a reputation as an advocate for public safety and environmental protection as a legislator.

“I worked for him for 16 plus years,” said Corey Bearak, who served as Leffler’s counsel and chief of staff until 1999. “He gave me some incredible opportunities to work on a host of major issues in the environment and public safety and other areas to help improve the city.”

Leffler chaired the Council’s Public Safety Committee for 10 years, helping to establish the independent Civilian Complaint Review Board and sponsored the Safe Streets, Safe City law to hire 7,000 more police officers.

Prior to that, Leffler headed the Environmental Protection Committee, where he wrote laws to start a recycling program in the city.

Leffler also became known as an honest politician during his years in the Council, and he cast the sole vote from the Queens delegation against a $19,500 pay raise for council members in 1999.

“He has a record as a public official, as a city council member, that people should emulate,” Bearak said. “The man I worked for certainly had great integrity and that’s what he was known by his colleagues for.”

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 138.

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