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Simotas leads money race by 4-to-1 margin

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Two young Democrats who work as Manhattan attorneys will face off this fall in the race to replace Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) as the state assembly member for Astoria.

Aravella Simotas, a Manhattan litigator and Community Board 1 member, has already been endorsed by a number of Queens elected officials, such as U.S. Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria) and Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), Gianaris, former City Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr., Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) and Councilmen Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) and Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside).

Jeremiah Frei-Pearson, who works as a civil and children’s rights attorney in Manhattan, is active in a number of civic groups, such as Western Queens Power for the People, Democracy for New York City, Coalition for a Better Astoria and the Long Island City Alliance.

Simotas has raised $49,490, according to state campaign finance records, while Frei-Pearson currently has $11,380.

Gianaris has raised nearly $100,000 in his bid for state Sen. George Onorato’s (D-Astoria) seat after the senator announced earlier this year that he would retire. He currently faces no opponents.

Simotas kicked off her campaign April 10 at Astoria’s Taminent Club, drawing several hundred people of varying ages.

“It’s great that the younger generation is getting involved in politics and government,” Simotas said. “A new generation of leadership is coming through in Astoria.”

Frei-Pearson said he would make his campaign official during a concert at Astoria’s Athens Square Park at 6 p.m. April 26.

“Albany is very dysfunctional,” he said. “My opponent is picked by Albany leaders, but she’s not going to fundamentally change the system.”

Simotas said she would focus on funding and improvements for public schools, environmental issues and expanding hospital space and health clinics in western Queens. Frei-Pearson said term limits and campaign finance reform were key issues as well as health care access, school overcrowding and the economy.

Mike Murphy, campaign spokesman for Simotas, criticized Frei-Pearson for his role in Western Queens Power for the People, which sued Con Edison for the 10-day blackout in July 2006. Frei-Pearson was one of two attorneys who worked with the group.

Power for the People reached a $7.9 million settlement in 2008 with the utility for planting trees and other green initiatives in western Queens. But some community leaders, including Gianaris, said the group should not have settled on the community’s behalf.

“The people of Astoria know they can trust Aravella Simotas,” Murphy said. “She’s a lifelong resident who understands the needs of the community and will fight for expanded access for health care and better schools. That’s why she’s endorsed by all the leaders we can trust. He’s already betrayed our community by selling them out to Con Edison after we suffered through the blackout.”

Frei-Pearson downplayed a recent message posted by Astoria district leader Costa Constantinides, with whom he runs Astoria’s Democracy for New York City meetings, on the community Web site astorians.com.

In the message, Constantinides said he believed Frei-Pearson had not promoted a DFNYC forum “accurately” by mentioning that his opponent would attend. Constantinides wrote he was frustrated his name was attached to an e-mail promoting the event and that Frei-Pearson knew Simotas would not be in attendance.

“I think there are important issues facing the community, so this is political nonsense,” said Frei-Pearson.

Constantinides did not want to comment on the matter, but both he and Frei-Pearson said they have worked together through DFNYC for years. However, Constantinides has thrown his support behind Simotas.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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