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Boro decides political fortunes

Rita Rosenthal peeks out from the voting booth in Bay Terrace. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Voter turnout Tuesday in Queens was fairly average for a primary as residents pulled the lever for Melinda Katz for borough president and polling stations from Astoria to Bayside experienced problems with lever voting machines.

About 110,000 residents voted in the borough president race, giving Katz the win over her closest competitor, City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), according to polling data compiled by the Associated Press. There are roughly 690,000 active registered Democrats in Queens, according to the state Board of Elections, which would put voter turnout at rough estimate of 16 percent.

Primary turnout is typically extremely light, and that is particularly true if we are talking about citywide races with no concurrent national races,” said David Birdsell, dean of Baruch College’s School of Public Affairs. He pointed out that a 20 percent turnout might be considered robust since the city’s primaries rarely coincide with national races.

Katz and Vallone were campaigning hard until the very end. On Vallone’s home turf, Costa Constantinides cruised to a Democratic primary victory to win the term-limited lawmaker’s seat.

In Flushing, posters bearing Vallone’s Chinese name were hung outside a crucial polling site downtown, near where the candidate himself was stumping for votes at a senior center.

Katz spent much of her day in southeast Queens, where at one polling station voters had to vie for space with hungry students.

At PS 270 in Laurelton, coordinator John Butler said an entire cafeteria was supposed to be set aide for voting. Instead, poll workers had to share the room with about 100 rambunctious children who were screaming during lunch. The voting machines were crammed on one side of the room.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous” said voter Valerie Seignious.

Councilmen Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) and Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) held on to their seats, while Daneek Miller declared victory in the primary for Councilman Leroy Comrie’s (D-St. Albans) vacant spot, although runner up Clyde Vanel was within a few hundred votes and had not conceded as of press time.

In northeast Queens, unsuccessful mayoral candidate John Catsimatidis toured a series of diners in the area in his decked-out campaign bus, while Paul Vallone declared victory in the contentious Democratic primary for the seat currently held by City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), who was indicted on federal bribery charges this year. The results of the race were not official, though, and may be contested.

The Howard Beach area had the lowest turnout in the borough, where Lew Simon bested his competitor in the Democratic primary.

In many spots throughout the borough, antiquated lever machines brought chaos to polling sites.

At PS 131 in Jamaica, for example, one of the machines broke down at 6 a.m. was not repaired until the afternoon. In the meantime, the backup machine malfunctioned and poll workers ran out of affidavit ballots, according to nonprofit Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

In that race, however, former state Assemblyman Rory Lancman crushed the competition and hopes to take over for Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) after a November election.

But several voters seemed thrilled at the return of the lever voting machines.

“I love the old machines. I think they are more accurate,” said Forest Hills resident Lynn Ryan after casting her vote at PS 144.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 7:23 pm, September 12, 2013
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