Abel quits beep race, blames lack of funds

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While residents in his northeast Queens council district were the source of most of his campaign funds,...

By Kathianne Boniello

Lacking both funds and boroughwide political support, City Councilman Mike Abel (R-Bayside) last week dropped out of the borough president’s race.

While residents in his northeast Queens council district were the source of most of his campaign funds, Abel had raised less money than most of the eight other candidates vying to succeed Borough President Claire Shulman in November. He will be forced to step down next year because of term limits.

In a statement issued last Thursday, Abel acknowledged the difficulties of his campaign. First elected to the City Council in 1992, Abel is one of only three Republican council members in a heavily Democratic borough.

“We knew from the beginning it was an uphill battle, especially for a Republican,” he said in the statement of his bid for the borough presidency. “Although I’ve received strong support from my district and substantial interest from outside it, the large field of candidates has made it just too difficult to obtain the financial support needed to succeed.”

Abel’s council district covers most of northeast Queens, including Bayside, Bay Terrace, Whitestone, College Point, Malba, Douglas Manor, Beechhurst, and parts of Douglaston, Little Neck, Auburndale, Linden Hill, and Murray Hill. The councilman announced his campaign for the borough president’s race in November 1999.

Abel said in a telephone interview Tuesday he would prefer to stay in public service.

“There may be other races coming up,” he said. “A future administration might be interested in me. I’d like to be in government.”

While his council constituents seemed to have no trouble supporting his bid for Shulman’s office with nearly $21,000 in campaign contributions, the Bayside politician had fallen behind his opponents on the money trail.

In addition to Abel there eight candidates for the borough presidency, including city council members Sheldon Leffler (D-Hollis), Helen Marshall (D-East Elmhurst), Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), and Al Stabile (R-Ozone Park), state Assembly members Audrey Pheffer (D-Rockaway) and Anthony Seminerio (D-Richmond Hill), former Board of Education President Carol Gresser and Queens Village resident Haydee Zambrana.

According to Abel’s filings with the city Campaign Finance Board, the majority of the $20,897 he had raised from more than 200 contributors was from people living within his 19th Council District. About 100 of those donors listed themselves as retirees, according to the records filed by March 20.

Coupled with the slightly more than $65,000 Abel was to receive in matching funds from the city, the councilman had raised about $86,000 for his campaign for borough president.

Both Leffler and Gresser have raised more than $100,000 for their respective campaigns.

State Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) said the lack of funding was a major reason behind Abel’s decision to withdraw from the race.

“I felt the problems of raising the kind of money you need were kind of daunting,” he said. “It’s a difficult goal to achieve.”

Christine Vartanian, a spokeswoman for Abel, said the number of candidates for the borough president’s race made it difficult to find solid boroughwide support.

“It was a tough decision,” she said of Abel’s withdrawal. “It’s just been a tough, tough race.”

Several well-known community and civic activists have contributed to Abel’s campaign so far, including Times/Ledger columnist and College Point resident Sabina Cardali, who gave $275 to his campaign in September 2000 and Bayside civic leader Frank Skala, who contributed $65 in October 1999.

Other community contributors include Lucile Helfat, a commissioner of the State Northeast Queens Nature and Historical Preservation Commission, and Joseph Hellmann, a member of Community Board 11. Both are Douglaston residents who each contributed $65 to Abel in November 1999.

Mary Anderson, a Flushing civic leader and member of the Bayside Republican Club, said the group was upset at Abel’s decision to withdraw his candidacy.

“Most of us were very disappointed because Mike has such name recognition,” she said. “He has been a fantastic city council person.

“We realize as Republicans we are limited in Queens,” she said. “It’s constantly an uphill battle.”

With the end of his city council term approaching, Abel has been mum on where he will go next. While Vartanian said the councilman has been taking things “one step at a time” since his decision was announced last week, both Padavan and Anderson expressed confidence in Abel’s political future.

Padavan said: “He is a capable, hardworking person whose services would be valuable.”

Anderson, who praised Abel as ambitious and said “anything’s possible,” said she thought Abel would maintain his presence in Queens politics.

“I think he wants to be in the arena,” she said. “He’ll be fine.”

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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