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Queens candidates seek signatures to get on ballot

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“This is it: 43-55,” volunteer Jennifer Kim says before rattling off a registered Democrat’s name.

First-time City Council candidate S.J. Jung checks the pronunciation of the resident’s name, flashes a smile and heads toward the door of a single-family home.

“This is my favorite part of the campaign,” Jung says as he climbs a set of stairs and rings the doorbell.

For a moment, silence. Undaunted, Jung rings the bell again.

“What’s your problemi” A man bellows through an open window.

Jung adjusts his gaze toward the window and begins his pitch.

“Hello, my name is S.J. Jung. I’m a candidate for the City Council in District 20. I’m collecting signatures to get my name on the ballot and was wondering,” he starts.

“All right, all right. One second,” the man answers back.

Five minutes later after somewhat heated conversation about Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s tax plan, Jung has the man’s signature and is headed toward another home.

“He was upset, and I can understand that,” Jung said. “That’s exactly why I’m out here. I told him that I’m going to fight for fair share tax reform and in the end he said, ‘OK, I will vote for you.’”

Jung is one of nine candidates vying for the soon-to-be-vacated seat of Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), each of whom launched drives last week to collect the 900 signatures required to formally be placed on the ballot for the primary election in September. Each candidate has until mid-July to collect and file the signatures with the state Elections Board.

As one of six Democrats vying for the seat, Jung said there is an extra emphasis in starting early, as only registered Democrats can sign petitions and each can do so for just one candidate in each district.

To make matters more complicated, the petitioning process is somewhat of a crapshoot.

As Jung went from home to home Friday afternoon, the results were mixed. Some happily signed, some signed after some cajoling, but about half of the registered Democrats he visited were either not home, did not speak English or did not wish to sign.

Jung, however, said despite these obstacles he enjoys the process.

“For me, this is the best opportunity to connect with the voters,” he said. “I’m very comfortable with approaching people. I am a community organizer and I also started my own business from scratch, which all started from making cold calls. So I actually enjoy it.”

Constantine Kavadas, a 27-year-old Queens College graduate and also vying for the Democratic nomination for Liu’s seat, said he also found petitioning rewarding.

“The voters you talk to, they give you pointers, they bring up issues they have in the community. So you learn, but I also think it’s a form of campaigning. I can listen, but I can also tell them why I am running,” Kavadas said.

While it is common practice for candidates to assemble armies of volunteers to collect signatures for them %u2014 both Kavadas and Jung have their own volunteer teams %u2014 Kavadas said he believes he has gained more by doing much of the work himself.

“I think the candidates should go door to door. The voter appreciates when the candidate comes to the door,” he said. “I think it just shows an involvement in the community and I think it shows that a candidate is willing to take responsibility for addressing the issues people have.”

As he walked away from another Democrats’ home, Jung said he feels similarly and that the process is not only about collecting signatures, but collecting votes.

“Sept. 15, righti” Democrat Edward Romero said, referring to the Democratic primary as Jung moved to leave his porch. “S.J. Jung. I’ll remember that. You’ve got my vote.”

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at sstirling@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

Posted 6:34 pm, October 10, 2011
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