Boro Democrats choose their candidates

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The Queens Democratic machine has picked its candidates and the big winners were mayoral candidate Alan Hevesi, the city comptroller from Forest Hills, and borough president contender Helen Marshall, the East Elmhurst councilwoman and the first black to be endorsed by the party for a boroughwide post in Queens.

At the countywide meeting in the Forest Hills headquarters of the Democratic Party Monday morning, the machine made the official announcement of its choices for the three citywide races, the borough president’s contest and for 12 out of the 14 city council races in Queens.

In what political insiders considered a backroom deal, Bernice Siegal dropped out of the race for the seat held by Councilman Sheldon Leffler (D-Hollis) and was endorsed for a civil court judgeship. Sidney Strauss, a longtime Democratic activist and former district leader in Forest Hills, was also backed for a civil court spot.

Last week Queens Democratic Party boss Tom Manton endorsed Hevesi in the race for Gracie Mansion over his longtime friend, neighbor and 30-year loyal party member City Council Speaker Peter Vallone (D-Astoria).

With the Queens endorsement, Hevesi becomes the only candidate to have the support of two Democratic machines. He had received the Brooklyn Democratic Party’s nod earlier. The Queens machine’s support should give Hevesi’s campaign a boost in his race against Public Advocate Mark Green, Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer and Vallone.

At the annual Democratic dinner for the party’s leaders and faithful last Thursday at Antun’s in Queens Village, the slighted Vallone vowed to stay in the race and let the people decide who they want running the city. He told the crowd they will all be invited to a picnic at Gracie Mansion after the election if he wins.

“He is fully confident he will be the next mayor,” said Mattis Goldman, spokesman for Vallone. “The people of New York City will make their decision on who has the best record and who has the best ideas — not on one party boss’s decision.”

Vallone will continue to build a grassroots campaign “if not with the Queens party, then we will do it ourselves,” he said.

Manton also picked Marshall to replace term-limited Borough President Claire Shulman. Marshall, the first black candidate selected by the Democrats for a boroughwide position, is vying for the post against fellow Democrats Sheldon Leffler and former Board of Education President Carol Gresser. City Councilman Alfonse Stabile (R-Ozone Park) is running on the Republican line.

Soon after Manton decided to back Marshall, City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) and state Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Rockaway) dropped out of the borough president race. Community activist Haydee Zambrana of Queens Village remains in the race but is a long shot to win the primary.

“Nobody asked me to leave the race. It was a decision that I made on my own,” Koslowitz said. “I’m going to be supporting the party ticket — Hevesi and Marshall and whoever else. It’s not complete yet.”

Pheffer said she pulled out of the race to unify Queens County behind Hevesi’s mayoral run and to prevent a “bloodbath” that could divide the party. She said Hevesi had asked her to support his campaign.

The political arena around the city — especially Queens — is wide open because term limits are preventing 35 of the 51 city council members, four borough presidents, the comptroller, the public advocate and the mayor from seeking re-election. Queens is losing all of its city council delegation and its borough president.

“The endorsements mean that the candidates will have the muscle of the Democratic organization behind them,” said Mike Reich, the Queens Democratic Party’s executive leader. “There are the troops, funds and all of the things that come with a large organization.”

The countywide candidates are chosen by a vote of the 64 Democratic district leaders and six at-large district leaders, said Reich. For the council races the candidate is selected by a vote of the district leaders who represent that area.

Traditionally, district leaders support the party’s borough boss and follow his vote for the mayor, borough president and city council candidate.

“The next step is to circulate petitions for the candidates, get them on the ballots and have a primary,” Reich said. The Democratic primary will be held Sept. 11.

“I think the Queens County machine can be invaluable to many candidates,” said Evan Stavisky, a political consultant, who has 10 candidates running this year. “In the worst circumstances it is like chicken soup — it can’t hurt. In the best case, it can provide technical expertise, troops and legal and political support.”

But Stavisky said the value is dependent on the district, candidate and opposition.

Siegal, who had been running for the council seat that stretches from Hollis to northeastern Queens, welcomed the challenge of a civil court judgeship.

“I knew this was an opportunity to provide a high level of public service for New York City, which is what I want to do,” she said. “They provided me with that opportunity.”

The Queens Democratic Party also backed former Board of Ed President William Thompson for comptroller and state Assemblyman Scott Stringer (D-Manhattan) for public advocate. No Queens candidates are in this race.

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

Updated 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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