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District leaders play key role for boro voters, parties

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In that gray area in the relationship between Queens party politics and the borough’s elected officials lies a group of more than 100 people who represent both the party they belong to and the residents who elected them.

These people are state Assembly district leaders. The Democrats have four representatives — two males and two females — in each of the borough’s 18 assembly districts. The Republicans have one man and one woman for each district.

The leaders, 108 in all, are responsible for choosing the leadership of their party organizations, designating candidates as party nominees for elections and acting as a liaison between the community and the politicians, said James Blake, one of the newly elected leaders in Assembly District 29 in southeast Queens. They also help recruit poll workers to ensure that elections run smoothly.

“It means being an arm to the community and to the constituents to assist them with what they need to get done,” said Jacqueline Boyce, also a district leader in AD 29.

Nearly a third of Queens’ district leaders who hold higher public offices today have been elected officials or have run for a seat.

The party determines the number of leaders per district as part of its bylaws, said state Sen. Serphin Maltese (R-Glendale), who is also the head of the GOP county organization in Queens. The Democrats choose four in each assembly district and the Republicans choose two, he said.

The leaders are elected every two years by voters during their party’s primary, with the Democrats voting in even years and the GOP voting in odd years as decided in each party’s bylaws, Maltese said. The four Republican leaders in Queens’ two new assembly districts will be elected in this year’s GOP primary.

Some see the district leader position as a stepping stone to higher elected office. Twenty of the 72 Democratic leaders hold elected offices at the city, state and federal levels, while six more have been members of the City Council, state Legislature and Congress in the past.

“I was quite surprised when I learned that the elected officials were also district leaders,” Boyce said.

U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), Assembly members Ann-Margaret Carrozza (D-Bayside), Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village) and Anthony Seminerio (D-Richmond Hill), and City Council members Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills), Hiram Monserrate (D-Corona) and David Weprin (D-Hollis) are just some of the Queens politicians who are also Democratic district leaders.

There are no Republican district leaders in Queens who occupy a higher public seat. But at least six Republican district leaders as well as six of their Democratic counterparts have run unsuccessfully for public office.

The district leader position is more powerful on the Democratic side because there are far more Democratic voters than Republican voters in Queens, Maltese said. Democrats outnumber Republicans by a ratio of about 4-to-1, with more than 640,800 registered Democrats and 153,800 registered Republicans.

Since the borough’s assembly delegation is exclusively Democratic, district leaders within the party may have a better chance at winning that seat if an assembly member steps down, he said.

For example, Assemblywoman Michele Titus (D-Far Rockaway) was able to parlay her experience as a district leader into a successful election bid when Assemblywoman Pauline Rhodd-Cummings died at the beginning of 2002.

“There seems to be a pattern,” Blake said. “You don’t have to be as concerned about being knocked off the ballot by the county organization because their job is to protect your ballot.”

But campaigns by district leaders are not always successful, said Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin (D-Flushing), who is also a district leader.

“Being a district leader might help you get the designation, but it may not help you to get elected,” he said. “There are many, many examples of district leaders who ran and lost.”

For example, McLaughlin cited Ethel Chen, a district leader in Flushing who ran unsuccessfully for the new assembly seat there.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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