Gennaro surprises Grodenchik to win primary

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Though James Gennaro beat long odds to win the Democratic nomination for term-limited Councilman Morton Povman’s seat, he refuses to call his victory an upset.

Gennaro, an environmental policy adviser to the City Council and an adjunct professor of political science at Queens College, overcame the connections of favorite Barry Grodenchik, the chief aide to Borough President Claire Shulman, to capture the inside track to the District 24 seat. Grodenchik was endorsed by both the Queens Democratic Organization and the borough president.

“If you look at politics through the conventional wisdom, it’s an upset,” Gennaro said. “I see it simply as a campaign that had a message and had a great plan for getting that message across. We were simply executing our campaign strategy.”

In a tight race among three candidates who all have significant government experience, Gennaro defeated Grodenchik and David Reich, legal counsel to state Sen. Seymour Lachman (D-Brooklyn), to capture the Democratic nomination for the seat, which covers northern Forest Hills, southern Flushing, Kew Gardens Hills, Fresh Meadows, Briarwood and Jamaica Estates.

Gennaro garnered 41 percent of the vote to Grodenchik’s 36 percent and Reich’s 23 percent, according to preliminary results from the Associated Press.

Gennaro will face off against Green Party candidate Lori Zett in the Nov. 6 general election, In a heavily Democratic borough, the Democratic candidates are expected to win.

But Gennaro, who said he won last Tuesday because of the grassroots nature of his campaign, will continue to knock on doors in the coming weeks.

“I’m going to continue to campaign,” he said. “I want to continue to talk to voters because the more I talk to them the more informed I become about their needs and what they want me to do for them.”

Gennaro said he feels “confident about the November general election.”

Potential obstacles along Gennaro’s path to victory in the primary were removed early in the campaign when Povman’s chief of staff, Jeff Gottlieb, and community activist Morshed Alam dropped out of the race. Alam was later named chairman of the newly established New Americans Committee of the Queens County Democratic Party. Gottlieb, who cited party unity in stepping aside, has yet to emerge with a new position.

With Alam and Gottlieb on the sidelines, Grodenchik picked up the all-important endorsement of the Queens County Democratic Organization, but it was not enough to propel him to victory.

“With two people withdrawn, that support should have gone to his [Grodenchik’s] side. “ Alam said. He wasn’t able to get them to his side.”

Alam also said Grodenchik did not “go to the people” like Gennaro did.

“I had the support of the voters, which is more important,” said Gennaro. “I knocked on the most doors. I had the most volunteers.” Gennaro said he went to all communities, walked every street, and knocked on every door in the district.

But Gennaro, who received endorsements from environmental attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and former Mayor Ed Koch, said his diverse experience was just as important a factor in the race.

“The voters were looking for someone with a combination of council experience and community involvement, which I have,” he said. “I was the only candidate with council experience, the only president of a civic association, the only community board member and the only union member.”

If, as expected, he defeats Zett in November, Gennaro will oversee the district where overcrowded schools, affordable housing and illegal housing conversions are hot issues. The predominantly white district, where household incomes average nearly $60,000 per year, has not had a new council representative since Povman was elected in 1971.

Gennaro has already spoken with Povman to make arrangements to plan the transition. He said education and community safety will be the first issues he tackles.

Reach Reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 7:24 pm, October 10, 2011
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