Avella seat candidates blast petition challenges

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The campaigns of five Democratic candidates vying for City Councilman Tony Avella’s (D-Bayside) soon-to-be vacated seat called for a moratorium on petition challenges, but were all subsequently challenged by the supporters of the one candidate who declined to enter the agreement.

Tom Cooke, Kevin Kim, Steve Behar and a representative for Debra Markell stood outside the headquarters for the Queens County Democratic Party Friday morning to ask for the campaigns of Paul Vallone and Jerry Ianecce to join them in agreeing not to challenge the signature petitions each had filed with the city Elections Board by yesterday.

“We’re doing this not because our petitions are weak, but because they want to tie up our limited resources by taking our campaigns to court,” Cooke said.

Each of the four campaigns present said they filed more than 2,500 valid signatures with the board, well over the required 900.

Vallone’s campaign later agreed and said it could not attend the news conference because the real estate attorney was receiving the endorsement of Mayor Michael Bloomberg in Flushing at the time.

But Richard Rapp, an associate of CB 11 Chairman Jerry Ianecce’s campaign, filed an objection to all five who entered the agreement, drawing the ire of several of the candidates.

“I respect the New York State Election Law and the safeguards in place to ensure that the democratic process is protected from abuse and fraud,” Markell said. “It should not be used as a political tool, I believe that’s what Jerry Ianecce is doing here.”

Ianecce and his campaign declined to comment.

Challenges to petition signatures are not uncommon, however, and can often be tied up in courts for weeks. In many cases, the fields in highly contested primary races are whittled down as successful challenges toss would-be candidates from the official ballot.

Behar blasted the Democratic Party-backed campaign of Ianecce and Vallone, an attorney who hails from one of the most politically powerful families in Queens, for declining to enter into such an agreement.

“Sometimes you use the system to its advantage even though it’s not the right thing to do,” Behar said. “So when challenges begin to come in, we’ll know where they’re coming from.”

Although one of the campaigns, Vallone’s, said it will not be from its end.

Vallone Campaign Manager Chuck Apelian said his campaign does not plan on issuing any challenges, but could not join the coalition in Forest Hills, and questioned why Cooke and Behar were critical.

“We agree with them. We told them we just couldn’t get there because of the timing,” Apelian said. “I don’t know why they’re saying that. Now they’re the ones playing the negative card.”

Vallone received the endorsement of Mayor Michael Bloomberg in Flushing — an event that took place at the same time.

Ianecce could not immediately be reached for comment.

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

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