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District 25 challengers may face Sears

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As the dust settles in the aftermath of the City Council’s vote to extend term limits, aspiring candidates in the 25th Council District are struggling to adapt to a political future that now includes incumbent Helen Sears (D−Jackson Heights).

Sears, 80, would have been term limited out of office at the end of 2009. She now has the option of vying for re−election, but has not announced what her plans will be.

“I still have over a year left on my current term, and all my thoughts are with how to make the 25th Council District stronger and healthier,” she said in an e−mail.

Rumors were also circulating that Sears could gather petitions for re−election but then drop out and cede them to her son, Stuart Sears.

Stuart Sears, who previously helped run his mother’s campaigns, angrily denied the rumors.

“That’s a disgrace to say that someone that has no track record of lying to the public ... would do something like that,” he said. “That tells you all you have to know about the other people running in this race. I’d like to see one of these windbags put their name to this and tell it to my face.”

Stuart Sears said he opened a campaign fund−raising account for the Council seat and had begun planning events, but put everything on hold when the term limits extension came up.

“At the current time, I have no plans if my mother runs for re−election, which I assume is a safe bet,” he said.

But Stanley Kalathara, a Jackson Heights−based attorney and member of Community Board 3, was undeterred by the prospect of running against an incumbent. He organized a protest outside Sears’ office Oct. 29, shouting harsh criticisms of her vote in favor of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s term limit extension bill.

“She did it for her own self−service,” he said.

Sears was one of six Council members from Queens who supported the mayor’s bill.

“It is my sincere belief that it is in the best interest of the city of New York to extend term limits from two to three,” she said in a statement. “This decision was not made easily, but it is the right one.”

Kalathara, part of the Gore delegation at the 2000 Democratic National Convention, said he would work to keep term limits on voters’ minds.

“We’re going to mobilize our people to make sure they understand,” he said, proposing a series of demonstrations and town hall−style meetings throughout the district. “This is only the beginning.”

But Kalathara may have to do more than organize if he hopes to compete with the other candidates. City Campaign Finance Board records show he has not yet raised any money for the race. Helen Sears, according to the finance board, has a $79,000 war chest.

Daniel Dromm, a Jackson Heights Democratic district leader and president of the Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club of Queens, has raised $53,871. He said he will continue to run for the seat.

“I think I can win the race,” he said. “I have a lot of support. I’ve been district leader for over six years now, and I’ve been working in that community for 17−plus years as an activist.”

Con Ed spokesman and former Sears deputy chief of staff Alfonso Quiroz, who has raised $48,026 in his bid for the seat, will also continue to campaign.

“We need somebody that’s going to reach across ethnic lines, racial lines and generational lines,” he said, noting he respects Helen Sears but was “extremely let down by the way that she voted and just feel it was really an act ... that put her own self−preservation before democracy.”

Helen Sears, Dromm and Quiroz will also have to contend with Elmhurst resident Mujib Rahman, who previously served as president of the highly competitive Bangladesh Society of New York. Rahman had also not raised any money, according to CFB records. He did not return phone calls by press time Tuesday.

The 20 or so protesters at Kalathara’s rally all attacked Helen Sears for supporting Bloomberg on term limits, but it remains to be seen whether other voters share their rancor — and whether they can sustain it until an election one year from now.

“I would have expected more outcry even at this point from people,” Dromm said. “I don’t know that the general population is fully aware that in addition to extending the term for mayor, it means the Council, borough presidents and other citiwides also have their term limits extended.”

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

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