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Queens Chronicle

Donovan Richards, Pesach Osina neck-and-neck in City Council election

The race to succeed James Sanders in Southeast Queens

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Posted: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 7:03 am | Updated: 7:09 am, Wed Feb 20, 2013.

The race to serve out the last 10 months of now-state Sen. James Sanders Jr.’s term on the City Council is down to the wire, with only a couple dozen votes separating the top two contenders, according to the candidates and reporting in the Daily News.

Donovan Richards, who had been chief of staff to Sanders (D-Rockaway), claimed victory in the special election for the 31st District by saying, “Happy to announce I am the councilman!” on the Facebook and Twitter social media websites late Tuesday night.

Not so fast, says competitor Pesach Osina, an aide to state Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway).

“While we are still uncertain of the total numbers, when every vote is counted, we will be victorious,” Osina told supporters at his campaign headquarters, in a speech posted on You Tube.

Richards and Osina were the clear leaders of the pack in a special election that featured eight candidates. But which one will claim the title of New York City councilman for the remainder of this year — garnering the advantages of incumbency for any run for a full four-year term — remained an open question as Wednesday dawned. The seat, which covers the southeastern corner of Queens, from Cambria Heights to Springfield Gardens, Rosedale and the eastern third of the Rockaways, became open after Sanders took his spot in the state Senate in January.

Preliminary vote tallies from the city Board of Elections were not immediately available to the Queens Chronicle. But the Daily News, citing the BOE, reported that Richards had 2,513 votes and Osina had 2,487 with more than 97 percent of the ballots counted. The News said counting was halted at midnight and would resume Wednesday morning.

The third-place candidate in the crowded field, according to the News, was Jacques Leandre, with 1,160 votes, followed by Michael Duncan with 962, Selvena Brooks with 817, Marie Adam-Ovide with 159, Saywalah Kesselly with 152 and Allan Jennings with 114. A ninth hopeful, Earnest Flowers, had been dismissed from the ballot for problems with the ad hoc party name he, like the other candidates, had to run under.

Leandre, who also ran for the City Council in 2009, vowed to keep working to improve Southeast Queens despite the loss.

“Whoever wins this race, we’re going to have to support 100 percent,” he told supporters. “This is a community that we love, that we want to see better. 

“I can guarantee, irrespective of the win, I’m going to work harder now to ensure that we have a community we can be proud of that we can all live in and be happy of.”

Brooks, in a statement issued to the media around 11 p.m. Tuesday, also promised to remain involved in public affairs.

“Wherever I have campaigned in recent weeks, voters emphasized that we need more leaders in city government who are attuned to the urgent needs and concerns of struggling families in our community,” she said. “I got into this race because I believe I am that kind of leader for our future. And I plan to stay very involved in public service because I want our shared vision for rebuilding Southeast Queens to prevail.”

Ethnicity and religion may have been factors in the vote. Other than Osina, who is Jewish, all the candidates in the race are black. At least one political activist in primarily African-American Southeast Queens, the Rev. Charles Norris, had publicly urged some of the candidates to drop out of the race so that the black vote would not be divided, increasing Osina’s chance of victory.

Andrew Benjamin contributed to this story.

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