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Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside), the incumbent representing Long Island City, Woodside, Sunnyside and parts of Maspeth and Astoria, leads all other candidates citywide in funds raised for the 2003 City Council race, according to an analysis of campaign finance records.
Although the $311,567 war chest amassed by the 30-year-old councilman included small donations from neighborhood residents and local businesses, the lion's share of the cash came from individuals, companies, unions and organizations located outside of the borough of Queens. Prominent among the largest donors were attorneys with several high-profile law firms as well as real estate and development interests.
In interviews, constituents and community leaders attributed the donations to Gioia's active schedule and high visibility - notably his tireless effort to fight the closing of six firehouses by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his post on the Council's zoning subcommittee - which had given him recognition throughout the city and beyond. But others wondered if hours spent aggressively fund-raising came at the expense of time working for the community.
According to the city's Campaign Finance Board disclosure reports, which include donations received through July 15, Gioia's total of $311,567 for the 2003 election surpassed even that of Council Speaker Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan). But Miller also raised significant money in a separate 2005 fund that, if taken into account, puts him far above Gioia with more than $1.5 million.
Nevertheless, Gioia still had more than many high-profile Queens incumbents: council members Peter Vallone, Jr. (D-Astoria) - $193,760; David Weprin (D-Hollis) - $230,000; and Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills) - $219,717.
Of the $311,567 raised by Gioia, only $53,437 came from people living in his council district. An additional $25,770 was raised from people outside the area who own, work for or run organizations or businesses in the district, the reports showed.
In an interview, the councilman said the amount of money raised was not the important statistic.
"What I like is that I have a more donors than anyone else," Gioia said. "To me that says a lot. When I look at how generous some of my friends and neighbors can be, I'm touched by that."
Of Gioia's 1,100 contributions (including separate donations made by the same source), 234 came from within the district and another 81 from people with businesses or organizations in the area.
Gioia's biggest donors in the district were Silvercup Studios, which gave $9,250, and Kaufman Astoria Studios, which supplied $7,250.
There were also many $10 and $20 donations received from retirees, small business owners and newsstand operators.
But 374 still came from sources entirely outside Queens.
Benjamin Development, a Long Island-based company specializing in the planning, construction, development and sales of luxury apartments, donated $4,000. Stadtmauer Bailkin, the legal arm of a New Jersey-based lobbying firm that focuses on tax incentives for constructions projects, gave $3,250. There was also a $2,750 contribution from Riese Restaurants, the company that owns TGI Friday's, Dunkin' Donuts and several other retail food chains.
None of the companies would answer repeated requests for comment.
Joe Conley, vice chairman of Community Board 2 and an unsuccessful candidate in the 2001 Democratic primary against Gioia, said the donations from developers were troubling in a district where new construction threatens to reduce the quality of life of longtime residents.
"Here he is running to developers saying support me and I'll be your leader and your voice in government," Conley said. Still, when pressed, Conley could point to no action or vote by the incumbent that suggested he was putting development ahead of the community.
Another major source of Gioia's funds were unions, including the New York State Laborers, which gave $3,750, and attorneys at prestigious corporate firms such as Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCoy and Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw.
Gioia said it was possible that some of the attorneys who contributed were people he knew from his stint as a litigator in the Clinton administration.
Still, several informed council sources - including more than one who did not want to be named - agreed that it was impossible to raise large amounts of money without spending significant time doing it.
And records show that Gioia has spent $30,455 on fund-raising, the second-highest expenditures following consulting fees. The disclosure reports show that the councilman spent a total of $190,842.
Nevertheless, Gioia is frequently and visibly present in the community. Earlier this summer, he argued the case on behalf of six firehouses facing shutdowns by the mayor, purchased dictionaries for every graduating public elementary school student in his district and threw out the first pitch at a Little League for the Queensbridge Houses he helped create.
"I don't spend a lot of time raising money. My time is spent doing the things you see me doing," Gioia said. He also underscored his reputation as a tenacious fighter on behalf of his constituents, noting that other council members "don't even think of cutting" programs or services that benefit the communities in the district.
In interviews, many local residents who gave small amounts cited Gioia's enthusiasm and charisma rather than his actions or approaches to specific issues.
"He was campaigning on my street near Queens Boulevard and he looked honest," said Simon Donikian, a small landlord and house painter in Woodside who contributed $10. "I just felt that he wanted to do something."
Although Gioia said he was entirely focused on serving the people of the district and would not speculate on his plans beyond 2005, the councilman is widely seen as an ambitious public servant who aspires to higher office. And that may be the most compelling explanation for the successful fund raising efforts.
"In the stock market, the money goes to the hot stock," said Gioia's spokesman, Noah Arnow. "Eric Gioia's stock is rising in New York City politics and this is a reflection of that."
---Dan Trudeau contributed to this article.
Reach reporter Alex Ginsberg by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.
©2003 Community Newspaper Group
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