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Queens Dems prepare for state Senate nomination

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An incumbent state senator facing a tough re-election campaign will likely lose the backing of the Queens Democratic Party pending a vote that was postponed until later this week, an insider said.

State Sen. John Sabini (D-Jackson Heights) was waiting for the Queens Democratic Party to decide whether to endorse him or City Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst), who ran against him in the 2006 election and lost by a margin of 200 votes. Sabini's senate district includes Corona, East Elmhurst, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights.

The organization, headed by U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), was slated to vote Monday on the endorsement, but opted to put it off until Friday due to a lengthy agenda, said Crowley spokeswoman Angela Barranco.

Monserrate declined to comment on the situation until Friday's vote.

Sabini, who has held the seat since 2002, touted his reputation with the party.

"I'm eager to have their support," Sabini said. "I know I have the support of a number of district leaders. They've been very vocal on my behalf."

But since last Thursday, district leaders have moved away from Sabini and deferred to the Queens party leadership, who believe his prospects are grim, said a source who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Sabini's reputation among voters suffered more from his arrest last fall on charges of drunk driving than that of Monserrate, who was linked in recent reports to a nonprofit struggling to account for more than $160,000 in Council discretionary funding, the source said, citing a poll Sabini staffers conducted.

Sabini's charges were later reduced to driving while awareness impaired, a traffic offense that carries a $300 fine.

Monserrate and the group, Latino Initiative for Better Resources and Empowerment, are now under investigation by the city Department of Investigation and the Queens district attorney, The New York Times reported. Both offices have declined to comment.

Major labor unions are also shifting from Sabini to Monserrate, and Sabini has lost the support of state Assemblyman Ivan Lafayette (D-Jackson Heights), who wrote letters of recommendation to his constituents in previous races, the source said.

State Assemblyman Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights), who had not yet endorsed either candidate, said the party's likely move would benefit both them and Monserrate, who enjoys strong support in a majority Hispanic district.

"Queens County has always liked empowering emerging communities," he said. "Now they have the chance with Councilman Monserrate, who could be the first Latino state senator."

What the endorsement will mean in November's election remains to be seen.

"The voters are the ones to make the choice," Sabini said. "I'm pretty confident it'll be with me."

But the insider worried the party's decision to abandon a loyal incumbent would have long-term consequences.

"The strength of Queens Dems is that it protects you," the source said. "That's why people side with Queens Dems."

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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