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Behar hopes 1st time a charm

Steve Behar has worked on 20 campaigns over the years, but his current one could be the first to put him in office.

The Bayside native will make his first bid for public office this fall in the crowded race to replace City Councilman Tony Avella (D−Bayside), who was first elected in 2001 and is currently running in this year’s mayoral race rather than seeking a third term in the Council.

Behar, who has been endorsed by Avella, began his career at the Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington, D.C., before going on to practice as an attorney and eventually opening his own law office on Wall Street five years ago. During the past decade, he has worked on numerous political campaigns, including those of President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Vermont governor and 2004 presidential candidate Howard Dean.

But this year’s campaign will be different.

“Tony Avella has been the people’s councilman and I’d like to carry that torch,” said Behar, who also runs a real estate company with his brother. “I plan to be just as hardworking, honest and straightforward. I’m a coalition builder who works well with others, so I’ll try to bring together people from all points of view to get things done.”

His opponents in this fall’s race include fellow Democrats Jerry Iannece, Debra Markell, Paul Vallone, Kevin Kim and Tom Cooke as well as Republican Dan Halloran. The seat covers Bayside, Auburndale, Little Neck, Douglaston, Whitestone, Oakland Gardens, College Point, Malba and East Flushing.

Behar said the issues on which he would focus during his campaign would be fighting overdevelopment in the district, improvements to community schools and the economy.

“One of the beauties of this area is that it mostly looks the same as it did when my family moved in here nearly 40 years ago,” he said. “I’d like it to look the same 40 years from now.”

He said he would push for more downzoning in the district as well as putting pressure on the city Department of Buildings to enforce its own regulations.

Behar said education is another top priority for his campaign and that he would fight for the creation of new elementary, middle and high schools in northeast Queens.

“We have the best schools in the city and I want to keep it that way,” he said. “Students can’t get a good education when schools are too overcrowded for teachers to give them individual attention. We don’t have enough schools for the population in the area, so I’ll lobby to use stimulus money from the federal government to build more here.”

Another key focus of his campaign will be the economy. Behar said he has a bachelor’s in economics, a master’s in finance and management, a law degree and a master of laws degree in securities and finance regulation, all of which he believes would serve him well on economic issues.

“If you walk up and down Bell Boulevard, you’d see the first proliferation of empty stores in 40 years,” he said. “Most of the jobs that are created in New York City are not at AIG, Citibank or Bank of America, but from small businesses. So we need to make sure our shopping districts are creating jobs.”

He said he would regularly host town hall meetings in each of the district’s communities during which business owners, landlords, community leaders and city officials could discuss economic development.

“That will be a way for all the stakeholders to get in a room and figure out how to create job growth,” he said.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e−mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 156.

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