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Boro pols fill coffers early in this year’s council races

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The Queens delegation of the City Council has raised nearly $1 million in campaign funds to prepare for this year’s primary and general elections, according to the city’s Campaign Finance Board.

The incumbent city legislators for the borough’s 14 districts have raised more than $900,000, and three hopeful candidates have a total of about $25,000, according to filings made by the Jan. 15 deadline.

Five of the incumbents have outpaced their colleagues and raised the lion’s share of the money – about $750,000 worth of donations.

Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside) leads the pack in both the city and the borough with more than $200,000 in net contributions, with Peter Vallone, Jr. (D-Astoria), David Weprin (D-Hollis) and Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills) each passing the $100,000 mark, according to the filings. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) is a close fifth in the borough, with about $96,000 in funds, according to the Campaign Finance Board.

“We sort of want to build up so we are not rushing at the last minute,” Avella said. “I wanted to make sure that I was ready for the campaign.”

While the net contributions include money that candidates and incumbents have claimed as eligible for the city’s matching funds program, which doles out $4 from public money for every $1 raised from residents, the Campaign Finance Board has not made any payments yet, an agency spokesman said.

With the city facing a multibillion-dollar deficit, at least one city legislator has suggested cutting back the matching funds program.

Gioia sees his donations as a sign of faith from his constituents, he said.

“I’m totally thrilled by the amount of support I’ve seen from people from our neighborhood and across the city,” he said. “I take this as a big vote of confidence in the leadership I’ve shown and the hard work that I’ve done over the past year.”

The entire Council will face re-election in November due to redrawing of district lines based on the 2000 Census. The city’s Redistricting Commission is expected to announce a final plan for the new boundary lines in the spring, and the proposal will be sent to the U.S. Department of Justice for approval.

The Queens delegates, all of whom were elected in 2001, have had a shortened term due to the redistricting process, serving two years rather than the usual four.

“Unfortunat­ely, because of the two-year terms that came about because of redistricting, we had to hit the ground running when it comes to fund-raising,” said Vallone, who has banked nearly $137,000. “I started almost immediately after I took office.”

For some, ensuring the coffers are filled may make them less vulnerable.

“Raising a substantial amount of money helps to discourage opposition,” said Weprin, who has raised about $118,000. “We’re first-term incumbents. We don’t have the same advantage as previous incumbents of being in office for 15 to 20 years.”

Katz, who raised $186,000, the second-largest amount out of the Queens politicians, said fund-raising is part of any active campaign.

“You show there is some support out there for you and that you’re willing to protect your seat,” she said.

Three hopeful candidates have also filed with the Campaign Finance Board to challenge two Democrats; Florence Fisher and David Reich are raising money to challenge Fresh Meadows Councilman James Gennaro, and Helen Cooper-Gregory is fund-raising to vie for the office of Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans).

Gennaro has raised about $64,000, while Comrie and Councilman Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) have not filed their contributions, according to the Campaign Finance Board.

All candidates who wish to participate in the city’s matching funds program must file with the board by June, an agency spokesman said.

– The TimesLedger staff contributed to this story.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 138.

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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