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Forest Hills resident bids to unseat Hevesi

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Forest Hills resident Lilianna Zulunova said she plans to challenge state Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) in this year’s Democratic primary and is going around the community to spread word about her platform issues that include job creation, affordable housing and education.

Zulunova, 26, has been a familiar face on the borough’s political scene and most recently was the campaign manager for Democratic City Council candidate Albert Cohen. She has also worked as deputy chief of staff for former state Sen. John Sabini, been the campaign coordinator for Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and worked for state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans).

“Seven years ago, when I had the opportunity to be an intern at Sen. Sabini’s office, I made the decision that this is what I want, this is how I can be effective and help my community,” said Zulunova, an adjunct communications professor at LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City.

Zulunova said she seriously began thinking of running in September’s primary against Hevesi, who has held the seat representing the 28th Assembly District since 2005, while working as the campaign manager for Cohen, who lost to Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), the first Bukharian to run for Council. Zulunova is also Bukharian.

The 28th District covers Forest Hills, Rego Park, Middle Village and Glendale.

Bukharian Jews, who primarily come from Central Asia, faced economic decline and civil unrest following the breakup of the former Soviet Union, and many of the world’s 250,000 Bukharians left their homes for places like Israel and the United States, with some 40,000 now living in Forest Hills and Rego Park, according to the United Jewish Appeal Federation of New York.

Zulunova was 9 when she and her family fled Uzbekistan in 1992 after an increase in attacks against Jews, including an incident in which every single house on her block was burned down May 6, 1990.

“My family came as refugees, and I’m very thankful to this country for everything it has given us,” Zulunova said. “My parents wanted to give us a better future and a stable life, and I believe we have that here.”

The Forest Hills resident said she especially wants to focus on job creation if elected.

“We have to make sure that people are stable again and able to sustain themselves and their families,” she said.

Forest Hills has one of the largest community of senior citizens in the borough, and Zulunova said she would hope to work on the accessibility of affordable housing for the older residents.

Zulunova also said overcrowded classrooms is one of the biggest problems her district faces.

“Forest Hills High School was overcrowded when I was going there, and it’s only gotten worse,” she said. “We have to make sure state funding allocated specifically for overcrowding is used to downsize classes,” she said.

The Democratic challenger criticized her opponent for being “MIA in the community.”

“As I’ve been going around the district and sharing things with the community, one thing I’ve been getting is, ‘Andrew Hevesi who?,’” Zulunova said. “I don’t know what he’s been investing his time in if they don’t think of him as their assemblyman or someone who’s been active in the community.”

Hevesi did not comment specifically on Zulunova’s accusation, but he did say he looks “forward to running on my record of results for the neighborhoods I represent and laws I’ve written that have positively impacted people throughout New York state.”

Hevesi filled the seat once held by former Assemblyman Michael Cohen. Hevesi has not been named in the investigation by state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, but Raymond Harding, the former chairman of the state Liberal Party, admitted last fall he received more than $800,000 in exchange for doing political favors, including opening up the Assembly seat for Andrew Hevesi, the son of former state Comptroller Alan Hevesi, according to the attorney general.

Cuomo has emphasized that Andrew Hevesi was not aware of the maneuvers made on his behalf.

Andrew Hevesi did not comment on the matter.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.

Updated 5:44 pm, October 10, 2011
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