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Periscope: Green Party shifts old-time Flushing politics

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The Green Party, never before a contender in Flushing's inbred political system, is set to challenge the status quo in the coming council elections.

Two Green candidates, both unlikely to win but spirited in their own ways, will go head-to-head in the party primary in September. Both will contest less than 100 votes from their party members. The seven Democratic hopefuls, on the other hand, will fight for the majority of about 30,000 votes.

The likely primary winner from the Green Party is Paul Graziano, just 30 years old and already an accomplished activist in the community. He has, for example, been one of the prominent agitators for the restoration of the landmarked portions of the RKO Keith's theater in downtown Flushing. Evergreen Chou, his opponent, has less of a record in the district.

However, both share bad haircuts. Given the fact that this packed council race will require some money to be spent on getting the candidates' message across to the voters, Graziano has raised $6,701 from 99 contributors. Chou has gathered a mere $393 from 10 contributors. These numbers are based on the latest figures available from the Campaign Finance Board and do not take into consideration the 4-1 matching funds available under the campaign finance law.

At the outset, full disclosure: let it be known that Graziano is a close friend of mine. We've shared many meals together but differ vehemently when it comes to politics. More importantly, he is an unmitigated optimist about the future of Flushing, while I remain a skeptic. I look both ways when crossing a one-way street.

If there were to be a symbol of Graziano's race, it would be the Kabrisky House on Ash Avenue. The once elegant family residence has been in existence since about 1845 but today is in the latter stages of decay.

For Graziano, a preservationist and a consultant to an architectural firm in New Jersey, the restoration of the Kabrisky House is a major step in the renovation of Flushing. Especially the neighborhoods where old mansions and homes that once represented, if nothing else, the gentility of old Flushing, are being torn down in favor of row houses occupied by the newly arrived Korean, Chinese and immigrants from the Indian subcontinent.

"When this becomes a museum, people will look at this neighborhood differently," Graziano said, during a tour of the Kabrisky House last week.

Perhaps. As far as Graziano is concerned, the revival of what may be considered "old Flushing" will serve to stabilize the rapid development of the neighborhood, currently little less than an off-ramp for newly arrived immigrants on their way to the greener pastures of Long Island and New Jersey.

Of the 10 candidates running for Flushing's city council seat, Graziano is the only one who's given much thought to the building of Flushing as a residential community. In two recent candidates' forums hosted by local civic groups, the rest of the field has given voice to concerns that haunt downtown Flushing: sanitation and the profusion of Chinese and Korean language signs in the downtown area.

In essence, apart from Graziano, the remaining candidates have considered little else but the downtown area.

Graziano has already submitted to the City Planning Department an ambitious plan to rezone 150 blocks of Flushing to preserve the one- and two-family houses in the Kissena Park and Waldheim areas.

If the rezoning does not pass through the legislative process of the City Council, Flushing can expect two-story apartment complexes, community facilities and the like in what were once residential streets. And with these developments will arrive congested streets and parking problems.

Since a new City Council will be voted in shortly and the redistricting of council seats will go into effect in two years following the 2001 census, expect that none of Graziano's reforms will be enacted for a while.

Still, given the fact that most of Flushing, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 3-1 and the registered independents surpass the GOP by a cool 5,000 voters, does Graziano have an outside chance of winning?

If Graziano should win the Green Party primary and face Democratic Asian candidate John Liu in the November general election, Flushing may just vote along racial lines and not entirely along party demarcations. In which case Graziano will give the Democratic Party favorite Liu a run for his money.

Liu has, and will, spend a lot of green to win his seat. He has already filled his coffers with $131,370 almost 20 times Graziano's funds.

"I am looking to win the election," said an upbeat Graziano, his glass still half full.

But Graziano will not win. The county Democratic machine has invested too much in John Liu. When county capo Thomas Manton appointed what are now called district leaders at large and gave the purely ceremonial posts to Asian and Hispanic people, he had hoped to soothe the folks who had complained the much celebrated diversity of Flushing wasn't quite represented in the Queens Democratic party.

By backing John Liu, Manton will not only allay those fears, which still exist, but will have a councilman he can control.

Yet even when he loses, Graziano's candidacy will have opened a door to future third party candidates vying for Flushing's council seat.

In Flushing a third party has not existed up until now because the Independents, Working Families, Right to Life and Conservative parties have traditionally aligned themselves with the two major political parties.

Democrats have ruled the roost and the Republicans have come in a distant second. The county machine has forever, under the guise of democracy, appointed its candidates to city, state and nationwide offices.

For Graziano to win even a third of the vote against the Democratic contender in the general elections may be counted as a resounding victory against the machine.

Reach columnist Sajan P. Kuriakos by e-mail at timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 136.

Posted 7:15 pm, October 10, 2011
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