At his congressional campaign kickoff today, Queens Republican Councilman Dan Halloran made clear that he wants his campaign for an open northeast Queens seat to be a referendum on President Barack Obama. Repeatedly, Halloran said he would focus on three themes: high gas prices, Israel policy and 8 percent unemployment.
And Halloran made clear, without saying it directly, that he does not want the campaign to between about his personal controversies– in particular, his pagan religious beliefs, which attracted considerable attention during Halloran’s 2009 Council run.
“It’s time to talk about our values in our community, and remember that God is part of the equation, however we see it,” Halloran said. “This race will not be distracted by non-issues, at any time. We will stick to the message, we will stick to the things that the people want addressed in Washington.”
It was fitting that the kickoff was held at Bowne Park in Flushing, where, as Halloran noted, in 1657 several Quakers signed the Flushing Remonstrance, a document calling for religious freedom. It was widely viewed as a precursor to the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights, which Halloran — an attorney by trade and Libertarian by persuasion – has memorized word for word.
The outspoken councilman’s message seemed ripped from the playbook of Queens/Brooklyn Congressman Bob Turner, who won a special election last year in a similarly heavily Democratic district by focusing on Israeli policy and pocketbook issues. His most highly critical comments of the Obama administration concerned its policies towards Iran. At the same time, Halloran also offered an olive branch towards ethnic unity in the diverse neighborhood, saying that people in the northeast Queens district, regardless of their backgrounds, face the problems of high gas prices, unemployment and Israeli policy.
The race also carries considerable personal risk for Halloran – especially since he would face a tough Council re-election in 2013 if he loses, and a negative race could hurt those efforts. He would surely rather talk about the Obama administration than his religion, or about a Department of Investigation report released last year, which was highly critical of Halloran’s well-publicized claims of an intentional Department of Sanitation slowdown during the 2010 blizzard.
Though a three-way Democratic primary has yet to unfold, there are already some parallels forming to Halloran’s divisive 2009 campaign. Halloran defeated a Korean-American candidate, Kevin Kim, during a race riven with ethnic and religious divisiveness on both sides. This time around, the early favorite for the Democratic nomination is Assemblywoman Grace Meng, who is of Chinese-American descent. She has already retained the consultant Multi-Media, a firm that worked for Kim and has strong ties to the weekly newspaper the Queens Tribune, which placed a controversial story about Halloran’s religious beliefs on its front page during the 2009 campaign. Halloran pulled out a narrow victory.
The energetic kickoff announcement did bring some unity to the always-fractured Queens GOP. Queens Councilman Eric Ulrich, who is on the opposite side of the Queens Republican civil war from leadership of the party, nonetheless showed up at an announcement full of Queens party brass.
Despite the feud, Ulrich and Halloran have maintained a decent relationship, and glad-handed after Ulrich arrived a few minutes late.
“He’s the one who brought me into this race, in terms of being convinced it could be won in the first place,” Halloran said, introducing Ulrich.
“You have my full support, Dan,” Ulrich said. “We gotta send this guy to Washington.”
In statements, meanwhile, both Meng and Assemblyman Rory Lancman focused on federal issues in addressing Halloran’s kickoff announcement, not personal ones.
Lancman said of Halloran’s announcement that, “We’re not going back to the failed Bush/Cheney policies which helped crash our economy, strain our military, threaten social security and put a woman’s health at the mercy of others.”
And Meng asked Halloran to justify his “party’s embrace of the Ryan-Boehner budget which would gut vital social programs for seniors, the disabled, and working families” and “to hear Dan’s take on recent partisan attacks on women’s access to health care.”
Councilwoman Liz Crowley is also running in the three-way Democratic primary. Her campaign spokesman released a statement late Monday, which said that she is the “only Democratic candidate in the sixth district who has fought and won tough general elections” and that the last thing “New York needs is another vote for the House Republican majority and their agenda of cutting taxes for millionaires, dismantling Medicare and Social Security and attacking women’s rights.”
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