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Astoria attorney pushes reform in run for Gianaris’ seat

Astoria’s John Ciafone said he would go to Albany as a reformer with an emphasis on improving education, health care and transportation in his district if elected as the replacement for state Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) this fall.

Ciafone, 40, an attorney based in Astoria, will face off against Aravella Simotas, an attorney and Community Board 1 member, and Jeremiah Frei-Pearson, a civil and children’s rights attorney, during September’s Democratic primary.

“I would come in as a reformer,” said Ciafone, who ran against Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) in 2001. “I think we need to eliminate the lobbyists and special interests that are buying the politicians in Albany. It’s not benefitting our local communities.”

He said he would also push for term limits in the state Legislature and that if elected, he only planned to run for two terms.

Gianaris’ seat is open this fall after the assemblyman decided to run to replace state Sen. George Onorato (D-Astoria), who will retire at the end of the year. He does not face any challengers.

He said funding for schools in his district will be a top priority in his campaign. But Ciafone, who served as first treasurer and then president of Astoria’s former Community School Board 30 for nine years, said he also supports charter schools in western Queens.

“It would help the community if we could get more schools with lower class sizes, especially if it comes from a federal grant,” he said. “Right now, we don’t have enough space for our kids. It’s like they are playing musical chairs. Our community is only as good as our schools.”

Health care and transportation are also high on his list of improvements for the district.

“These are bread-and-butter issues,” he said. “We need a bigger hospital. And our train and bus service has been diminished dramatically. There are longer waits since they got rid of the W train.”

Ciafone said he believed small business owners in his district, especially along Steinway Street, were suffering due to high state taxes, sanitation issues and excessive ticketing by the city’s parking agents.

“On Steinway, they’ll memorize how much time is on your meter, then they’ll come back and issue you a ticket,” he said. “People won’t come there because they don’t want to get a ticket. They’ll go to a shopping mall. It’s hurting local business.”

He also wants additional services for seniors in western Queens, including new senior centers, Meals on Wheels programs and housing as well as more police officers for Astoria’s 114th Precinct.

Ciafone, who primarily practices personal injury law, currently acts as an executive leader of Long Island City’s Aldos Democratic Club, of which he has been a member since 1998.

He described himself as the “conservative Democrat” in the race and that he was the only candidate to oppose gay marriage. Ciafone said he was not against gay partnerships, but believed that gay marriage “was not recognized by any religion.”

He is running on the Democratic, Conservative and Independence lines. The Democratic primary will be held in September. There are currently no Republicans in the race.

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

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