Stavisky beats back challenge to keep her Senate seat

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State Sen. Tony Stavisky holds up Korean calligraphy of her name.
State Sen. Toby Stavisky greets Muho Kim. Photo by Christina Santucci
John Messer casts his vote at PS 46 in Oakland Gardens with his wife Wendy and children. Photo by Christina Santucci
State Sen. Toby Stavisky thanks Elliot Lee for translating her message at the Korean American Senior Center.
State Sen. Tony Stavisky stands beside Kwang S. Kim, president of the Korean American Senior Center in Flushing.

State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) came a step closer to maintaining her reign as a longtime northeast Queens lawmaker Thursday night after she fended off Democratic primary challenger John Messer, the Oakland Gardens lawyer and businessman who opposed her for a second time after also losing in 2010.

“I think we sent a positive message. I am truely grateful to everybody,” Stavisky said at her victory party at the Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel in downtown Flushing.

Stavisky pulled out the win after a bitter battle between the two candidates, which at times overshadowed any question of policy differences.

With 65 percent of the precincts reporting, according to CBS News, Stavisky had 61 percent of the vote to 39 percent for Messer

Hints of the acrimony were visible around Flushing Thursday — a newly placed Messer poster ripped off of a lamp post or an anonymous poster blasting Stavisky’s past political alliances taped to a parking meter — but by 9 p.m. when the polls closed, all focus was on the numbers.

Stavisky was backed by the Queens Democratic Party, along with several organized labor groups, which provided a boost to the campaign.

Earlier in the day she spoke to a group of graying residents at a Korean senior center, and throughout much of the district Stavisky could be seen on posters alongside state Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing), a popular lawmaker in the Asian community. Other Stavisky posters were translated into Korean and Chinese.

On multiple street corners, Stavisky signs also featuring Ron Kim were held up by wooden easels that said “Citizens for John Liu,” indicating they were pulled out of storage by the Queens Democratic Party from earlier races.

Messer put his faith in ground troop operations, he said outside of PS 49, where he voted Thursday afternoon.

“We believe people who are coming to vote [already] know who they are going to vote for,” he said, referring to the fact that his campaign was focusing its efforts on getting out the roughly 6,000 people who had pledged to vote for him instead of posting supporters on the street corners near polling sites.

But the businessman’s strategy was not enough to topple Stavisky, who will serve her seventh term as legislator should she defeat her Republican opponent, who was to be determined in Thursday’s GOP primary.

Messer commented that most calls placed to his campaign office were to ask about polling locations, since redistricting changed many sites for Queens residents.

At PS 46 in Oakland Gardens, a poll worker said that about half the people who showed up were told to go to a different polling site.

As of 3:30 p.m., about 200 people had voted, she said.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 12:05 pm, September 14, 2012
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Reader feedback

Barb from bayside says:
Wonder how many dead residents voted in this one...
Sept. 16, 2012, 12:50 pm

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