Tuesday's Line-up: Close Races?

Tuesday’s election is practically a non-event as far as the municipal elections go.  There is nothing competitive happening in any of the races for major offices.  For instance, Joe Lhota is bringing Rudy Giuliani to campaign with him in senior centers on Staten Island’s south shore: if the GOP candidate for mayor is trying to muster support among elderly Republican Italians, we can be fairly sure that his internal polling is not predicting a major victory.

The mayor, the public advocate, the comptroller, all five borough president races…is there the slightest doubt who will win any of these elections?  Would anyone take even 20-1 odds on the Democratic nominee losing in any major race?  People thought that the James/Squadron runoff was a waste of money, but really the general election is the one that good government types should think about getting rid of.

Fortunately for political junkies there are still a few competitive races to watch in the city council election…sort of.  Of the 51 council races, a handful could be close enough to watch.

District 19, in Northeast Queens, had one of the most contentious Democratic primary council races to replace disgraced CM Dan Halloran, who is leaving the Council in order to deal with his federal felony indictment.  Paul Vallone of the well-known Vallone family overcame the field with the substantial assistance of REBNY’s Jobs for New York PAC, which poured over $360,000 into the district to get Vallone the nomination, which comes out to $120 per vote.  Vallone wound up beating WFP candidate Austin Shafran by only 150 votes, so REBNY can probably consider its money well spent.

Paul Vallone works for his father’s lobbying firm and is attached to the old Vallone & Vallone law firm, which now serves largely as an “of counsel” answering service for Sacco & Fillas, another Queens law firm.  He is facing a Republican challenger, Dennis Saffran, who ran for Council against Tony Avella in 2001 and lost by a tiny margin.  Saffran, also an attorney, ran an organization called Citizens for the Community Interest, which fights what it considers the excesses of civil rights advocacy, and promotes anti-loitering laws and civil confinement of mentally ill homeless people who threaten passers-by.

The 19th CD is an unusual district in New York City, and largely resembles a Nassau County suburban bedroom community.  The area is basically conservative in the original sense, in that it resists the kind of overdevelopment that has destroyed many neighborhoods further west in Queens.  After electing Tony Avella twice, the district voted Dan Halloran, a law-and-order style Republican, into office in 2009.  Paul Vallone is likely to win on Tuesday, though his victory is not a certainty.  Paul Graziano, the 3rd place contender in the Democratic primary, has endorsed Dennis Saffran as the candidate least beholden to the real estate industry.  Graziano, whom I identified as a “left conservative” earlier this season, was never a Democratic loyalist, so his defection is less of a betrayal than some have suggested, but this also means that his endorsement will not necessarily draw a lot of Democratic votes.  In any case, the 19th CD is one to keep an eye on.

Another potentially interesting race that is CD 43 in southwest Brooklyn, where CM Vincent Gentile is aiming to become the senior member of the council.  Gentile, who served as State Senator for three terms starting in 1996, swapped seats with CM Marty Golden when Golden defeated him in his 2002 bid for a fourth term, and has served since then.  Gentile was notoriously on Speaker Quinn’s pay-no-mind list, and suffered the indignity of being denied chairmanship of a committee or even a subcommittee: instead he was made Chairman of the Select Committee on Libraries, of which he was the sole member.  He was shorted on discretionary funding as well, leaving him open to criticism that he was an inadequate representative for the district.

Gentile, to his credit, has argued that being on Christine Quinn’s bad side has been a sign of his independence.  Indeed, now that Quinn’s political future and legacy are in tatters, who amongst us can say that Vinnie Gentile should have kissed up to her more effectively?  In any case, he is facing a proxy for Marty Golden on Tuesday in the form of John Quaglione, a Golden staffer.  Quaglione is making an issue of the fact that Gentile didn’t bring sufficient funding to the district, though how a first-term member of the minority party expects to do better is a mystery.  Gentile has outraised Quaglione, and remains very popular among Democrats, having never faced a primary challenge.  He typically wins around 55 to 60% of the vote in his general elections, though this could wind up the year that Brooklyn elects a Republican.  Again, one to watch, though I wouldn’t strain my eyesight over it.

Finally, we consider a race that really isn’t much in doubt, but is interesting for other reasons.  CM Eric Ulrich of CD 32 in Queens, covering Howard Beach and the western (white) end of the Rockaways, is popular in his district and well-regarded by his peers.  A Republican with WFP and UFT backing, Ulrich is the only candidate in any city election this year to have received a campaign contribution from Mayor Bloomberg.  Ulrich ran for state senate in 2012 against Joseph Addabbo and lost, though it can be reasonably argued that Hurricane Sandy suppressed turnout in Ulrich’s main electoral districts of support.  

Eric Ulrich, not yet 30, appears destined for great things.  And yet, what could they be?  As a Republican, his future in city politics seems capped.  It is unlikely that we will see a non-self financed Republican mayor anytime in the near future.  He is clearly ambitious and capable, yet his electoral prospects are hard to calculate beyond his current position, which incidentally, he is sure to retain come Tuesday.  His Democratic opponent, Lew Simon, is running a low-funded, underdog campaign that was hampered last month by news that the candidate had an angioplasty a month before the general election.  Simon, a longtime district leader, is a staffer for Senator Addabbo, though this information is not foregrounded by the campaign.  The election will likely go to the incumbent, but the results should be interesting to read in regard to the political future of CM Ulrich.