More surprises emerge in Harrison-seat race

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It just keeps getting stranger.

With less than two weeks left to go in one of the most watched city council primary races in Queens history, John Watts, chief of staff for Councilwoman Julia Harrison (D-Flushing), has lent his support to Republican candidate Ryan Walsh for Harrison’s seat, Walsh said.

“John Watts is working on my campaign on his off time,” said the Republican candidate for District 20. “If I’m elected, he will remain as my chief of staff.”

Walsh would not indicate whether Harrison herself also supported his campaign.

As of press time, Harrison was in the hospital with phlebitis and could not be reached for comment. Watts was on vacation and also could not be reached.

In the Sept. 25 Democratic primary, Watts and Harrison supported Ethel Chen, who lost to John Liu by a margin of 202 votes.

Liu, widely regarded as the frontrunner in the race, said he was not troubled by Watts’ support of a Republican candidate.

“More power to John Watts,” he said. “John is looking for certain things after the election that I can’t promise him.”

Michael Reich, executive secretary for the Queens County Democratic Organization, said of Watts’ decision: “It means nothing. John Liu will be the next council person. The entire Queens Democratic organization is behind him.”

Walsh’s claim of Watts’ support is just the latest twist in an election that has featured the most well-funded candidate in council history, the city’s only Green Party primary (which came out a tie) and not one but two lawsuits involving one candidate suing another.

Paul Graziano, the Green Party candidate, took Walsh to court on accusations of fraud in his petition to run for Harrison’s seat. State Supreme Court Justice Martin Schoenfeld allowed Walsh to remain on the ballot on a legal technicality even though he found the petition to be “permeated with fraud.”

At a council debate last week, defeated Democratic contender Chen said she was bringing John Liu to court.

“We found a lot of abnormalities (in the Democratic primary),” said Chen. “We want justice to be served.”

At the Community Board 7 meeting Tuesday, Liu said Chen had dropped her lawsuit against him. Chen could not be reached for comment.

While Reich said he was “100 percent” sure that Liu would win the race, other candidates questioned the certainty of the race.

“It looks like the community of Democrats are a little more motivated to vote for me than they are to vote for John Liu,” said Martha Flores-Vazquez, a registered Democrat running on the Independent line.

Vazquez received $38,000 in matching funds from the city last Thursday, and she expects more money to follow.

“Those matching funds did not come easy; there were at least two audits involved,” she said.

Graziano, who has received more than $26,000 in matching funds, said the race would be close.

“I think people already know that there is not just a Republican and a Democrat running,” he said. “Regardless of my party, I’m in a serious position, if not to win, to at least do some serious damage.”

With the claim of support from Watts, Walsh was also confident.

“I believe we have a good shot,” he said.

Reach Reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

Posted 7:25 pm, October 10, 2011
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