Voters head to the polls in southeast Queens special election

Candidates Saywalah Kesselly (l.) and Donovan Richards get out their final pushes for votes in Laurelton. Photo by Rich Bockmann
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TVoters headed to the polls throughout the day Tuesday to decide the outcome in southeast Queens’ hotly contested special election. Some of the City Council hopefuls who were in Laurelton making a last-minute push to grab undecided votes appeared to have put the rhetoric of their campaigns behind them.

In the contest to serve out the last 10 months of Sanders’ term, nine candidates with long ties to their communities have been fighting tooth-and-nail to get to City Hall. One was eliminated from the ballot.

Sanders was elected to the state Senate in November.

The Council district covers Rosedale, Laurelton, Springfield Gardens and Far Rockaway, and in the special nonpartisan election the candidates are not identified by political party.

Jacques Leandre sued six of his opponents in an unsuccessful attempt to get their names thrown off the ballot, a maneuver opponent Michael Duncan derided as “plantation politics” but one Leandre wore as a shrewd badge of honor.

Richards, Sanders’ former chief of staff, said Tuesday that at the end of the day everyone will bury the hatchet and work together for the better of the community, but several of the candidates had already pledged to run again in the September primary.

The potential dark-horse candidate in the race was Osina, an Orthodox Jew from Far Rockaway whom community members on mainland Queens said has been absent outside his neighborhood during the campaign. Political observers said that with seven candidates splitting the black vote, Osina has a good shot at winning if he can get a large turnout in the Jewish community.

Steve Behar, a consultant with Richards’ campaign, would not go into detail about his analysis, but said he thought the numbers favored his candidate.

“If you’re not counting numbers then you’re not going to win the race,” he said. “We’ve had the strongest operation by far. I can guarantee we’ve knocked on the most doors.”

Former Councilman Allan Jennings has also been seldom seen on the campaign trail, though his posters dotted windows and sidewalks outside polling locations. With just $25 reported to the city Campaign Finance Board, Jennings has raised the least funds.

Then there was Earnest Flowers, who was kicked off the ballot over a technicality with his campaign’s moniker. On the eve of the election, Flowers sent out robo-calls asking voters to write in his name on the ballot.

Marie Adam-Ovide, Community Board 8’s district manager, and Selvena Brooks, a communications specialist who previously worked in Sen. Malcolm Smith’s (D-Hollis) office, appeared to lack the name recognition some of the other candidates enjoyed.

One Laurelton resident who had just cast her vote for Richards at IS 59 in Springfield Gardens said she was concerned what effect the election would have on her neighborhood.

“I think a lot of the candidates forget about Laurelton. They focus a lot more on Far Rockaway,” she said. “And that’s understandable, with all the problems it has.”

The woman asked that her name not be used because, as she explained, when the election is over she will still be working with many of the candidates on community issues and did not want any cause for bad blood.

“I’m still going to have to work with a lot of them,” she said.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 11:21 am, February 20, 2013
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