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City candidates debate Sept. 11 impact on boro

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With only two weeks before the general election, Democratic city council candidate Allan Jennings has just now begun to regroup in preparation for the Nov. 6 general election.

Although candidates in the borough’s 14 city council races have all felt the effect of the World Trade Center disaster, for Jennings the loss resonated on a level far more personal and profound.

Jennings’ campaign treasurer and friend, Frank Lin, had just stepped into his office on the 89th floor of the World Trade Center Tower 1 when the first airplane crashed into the floors above him. He remained in the building when it collapsed and is now presumed dead.

Although Jennings won a surprise victory in the Democratic primary for the 28th District seat held by City Councilman Thomas White (D-Jamaica), his campaign has been handicapped not only by the loss of his treasurer and the destruction of his campaign records, but by the need to take time to mourn for Lin.

Jennings’ story is only the most extreme example of the overwhelming impact the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 have had on this year’s historic elections, which will produce an entirely new Queens delegation to the City Council due to term limits.

Even before the Board of Elections postponed the primary election Sept. 11 following the destruction of the World Trade Center, a major change was already underway in how borough voters perceived the election and how candidates conducted their campaigns.

Most borough candidates completely ceased all campaigning between Sept. 11 and the rescheduled primary date of Sept. 25.

After suddenly grinding to a halt, the campaigns only slowly began to remobilize once winners emerged in the primary election.

But candidates offer different perspectives on how profoundly they believe the attacks have altered the city council races.

“I don’t know if the campaign has changed,” said Melinda Katz, a former assemblywoman who won the Democratic primary for the 29th Council District, currently represented by Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills). “The needs of the district are always going to be constant in a few respects.”

But even among candidates who have not seen fundamental changes in their races since Sept. 11, additional rhetoric and ideas have found their way onto their platforms as a means of addressing the city’s new concerns.

“Any council member coming into office now should be able to deal with the safety aspect of the city,” Katz said. “Also the issue of rebuilding the city.”

John Liu, the Democratic candidate in the race to succeed City Councilwoman Julia Harrison (D-Flushing), believes the significance of local issues has only been magnified in the past five weeks.

“The issues that I spoke about before any of this happened are just that much more important, because they really speak to the way of life that we all enjoy here and that we sometimes take for granted,” he said.

Other candidates contend the events of Sept. 11 placed a greater burden on the shoulders of prospective members of City Council since they will be guiding the city through war and a massive rebuilding effort.

“These are different times, and Sept. 11 really changed the dynamics of the race,” said Dennis Gallagher, the Republican candidate to replace Tom Ognibene (R-Middle Village) as the city council representative in the 30th Council District. “They’re looking for somebody who’s strong, somebody who has experience and somebody who has the leadership to make sure that we all get through these very trying times.”

For Gallagher, the new atmosphere has buoyed his campaign with an added impetus.

“This motivated me,” Gallagher said. “I realized that this job that I’m about to undertake is not just a job, it’s a calling.”

But for those like Jennings who were more directly affected by the tragedy, the campaign trail is proving to be trying.

“The motivation is just different,” Jennings said. “I won the election, and people ask me, ‘You don’t look happy, you don’t look excited.’ It’s like a bittersweet victory.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 7:25 pm, October 10, 2011
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