Even though the New York City Council elections are a year-and-a-half away, many campaigns have quietly been laying the groundwork to run for Council seats. About half of the seats will be open in 2013 due to term limits – and many candidates are chomping at the bit to get started, after the 2008 term-limits extension delayed their plans for four years
From time to time, the Notebook will be checking in on the status of the competitive Council races, and giving our take on the lay of the land. It’s definitely an inexact science so early in the game, and if you have any tips — or have suggestions about which race we should cover next — please feel free to get in touch.
One race I’ve been following closely is the Democratic primary shaping up to take on colorful northeast Queens Councilman Dan Halloran. He may run for state Senate in 2012 against State Sen. Tony Avella if the redrawn district breaks the right way, though he’s recently thrown cold water on the idea. But assuming that Halloran isn’t a member of the state Senate by 2013, the Democratic primary to take him on could again get pretty messy, in what is a relatively conservative district by New York City standards.
In 2009, the Queens Democratic machine backed community board chair Jerry Iannece, and tried to force Paul Vallone, the brother of Councilman Peter Vallone, Jr., to drop out of the race, fearing Iannece and Vallone would split the Italian-American vote – and pave the way for a weaker general election candidate to emerge. Vallone refused to drop out, and that’s exactly what happened: Kevin Kim, a bright, young Korean-American lawyer, won the primary behind a huge turnout by Korean-American community in Flushing, but narrowly lost an extremely ethnically and religiously divisive general election contest to Halloran.
Fast forward to 2013. Kim has moved out of the district. Vallone wants to run again. Iannece is very interested. Matt Silverstein, a young state committeeman who is the former president of the New York State and Queens Young Democrats is already raising money. All of this threatens to again split the vote — and make anointing the strongest general election candidate a difficult task for the Queens Democrats.
Vallone — and his entire family — have a long history of bucking leadership of the Queens Democratic Party, and if Vallone thinks he can win, he’s likely to run. On the other hand, Iannece and Silverstein are much more loyal to the Queens party leadership.
One operative paying close attention to the race says the ultimate play for the Queens Democrats may be to support John Duane, a former one-term assemblyman in the 1980’s, who is the brother of State Sen. Tom Duane. He is thought to be liked in progressive labor circles, and would probably be a more liberal pick than either Iannece or Vallone. He is already meeting with people about a run.
Duane is seen some as having the type of gravitas to take on Halloran, who is certainly no wilting flower, and remains personally popular among many in the district despite a number of controversies. Halloran was preceded on the Council by then Councilman Tony Avella, a lone wolf on the body who often clashed with leadership.
“In that district, you kind of want someone who has a little bit of a screw loose,” said one labor official closely following the race.
Duane did get into little bit of a spat with leadership of the Queens Democratic Party in 2010, when he refused to drop out of the Assembly race to replace Assemblywoman Ann-Margaret Carrozza – causing the Queens Democrats to boot Duane from a promised spot on state committee. Still, Duane ran a fairly positive campaign, unlike others in the race and did not burn too many bridges with the Queen Democratic organization, finishing in a strong second place.
Silverstein, meanwhile, is the only Jewish candidate who appears to seriously be eying a run. He also has deep connections in among young Democrats. And Iannece and Vallone both retain strong bases of support.
The decision on which Democrat to select will ultimately be made by Queens Democratic chair Joe Crowley and the district leaders in the Council district, which may well shift with redistricting. That means that the 2010 elections for district leader in northeast Queens could well play into who wins the right to take on Halloran.
Regardless, Queens Democrats are hoping to replicate the 2010 Assembly race for Carrozza’s seat, when several candidates, including Silverstein, dropped out of the race and accepted lower-level spots with the party, after it became clear that Ed Braunstein was the Dems’ pick to run against a fairly strong Republican candidate, Vince Tabone.
“The goal of the party is to learn from our past,” said one Queens Democrat, “and not repeat the mistakes of 2009 that stuck us with Dan Halloran for four years.”
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