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Queens Chronicle

Candidates duke it out in Whitestone

Contentious Dist. 19 race draws crowd in one of last election forums

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Posted: Thursday, October 31, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 11:11 am, Thu Nov 7, 2013.

At the request of the evening’s moderator, the candidates who addressed the crowd of about 150 in Whitestone’s Holy Trinity School on Oct. 23 kept their comments as positive as their occasionally bristling emotions would allow, opting instead to attack indirectly and frequently without naming names.

With each candidate allowed approximately 20 minutes, Democrat Paul Vallone, first up of the two men seeking to replace lame-duck Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) for the 19th City Council seat, spoke briefly before engaging in a give-and-take with the audience.

The attorney touched upon several issues near and dear to the hearts of many in attendance.

“We are dead last in city funding,” he said. “It’s time to give us our fair share.”

Anticipating a new mayor, speaker, and other elected officials, Vallone said, “I’m calling them already. They’re already standing with us.”

One particularly hot topic was a proposed high school on the property of the former Cresthaven Country Club.

“We rallied and we were heard,” said Vallone, who indicated that Lorraine Grillo, president of the NYC School Construction Authority, has promised with 99.9 percent certainty that the location is not going to be used for a school. “It’s good news for now,” Vallone said.

He then suggested that potential voters should ask themselves, “What have the candidates done with you in the last 10 years? Who stands with what?”

“I’ve learned from the very best,” Vallone said, in tribute to his father, Peter Vallone Sr., former speaker of the City Council. “You know where I come from,” Vallone said.

He denied accusations of links to the real estate industry by saying, “I don’t receive a penny from real estate boards. No job on this planet is worth my integrity.”

However, Jobs for New York, an arm of the Real Estate Board of New York, donated more than $113,000 to his campaign and was responsible for sending out fliers about three of the four Democratic candidates who ran in the primary that they said were false.

Vallone concluded by asking for the voters’ support in order to “get this seat back once and for all.”

Running against Vallone on the Republican, Conservative and Reform Party lines is lawyer and former director of a national anticrime group Dennis Saffran, who quickly established that, for him, like Vallone, “family is everything. It’s why we live in Northeast Queens. Our lives revolved around raising our kids.”

As director of the Center for the Community Interest, Saffran pointed out that he fought for reforms such as Megan’s Law, to protect children from sexual predators, and Kendra’s Law, to get the violent mentally ill off the streets and into treatment.

Calling himself a “Giuliani Democrat,” and, later, a “lifelong Democrat,” Saffran, who lives in Douglaston, said, “I’m worried that we not go back to what we had 20 years ago, that we not go back to the Dinkins era.”

Indirectly responding to Vallone, who earlier had cited many of his endorsements in the race, Saffran pointed out that some members of Vallone’s own party, including three out of the four people who ran against him in the Democratic primary, have declined to endorse him.

Saffran also called into question Vallone’s assertions regarding the real estate industry, saying, “Look at all the records. Follow the money. I won’t owe a thing to the real estate industry.”

He further accused Vallone of taking credit where it isn’t always due, citing as an example his declared role in the Cresthaven school situation.

Saffran strongly supports stop and frisk, saying he is “absolute on that,” adding that the job of the police is “not a tea party,” but stressing the need for them to “be as civil as possible.”

He finds the proposed idea of allowing noncitizens to vote in municipal elections “one of the most offensive and insane pieces of legislation” he has seen, calling it an “attack on the concept of American citizenship, a kick in the teeth” and promising “I am going to fight that tooth and nail.”

Republican borough president candidate Tony Arcabascio greeted the crowd by saying, “You’ll be happy to know I’m not a lawyer,” working instead as project manager at the North Shore LIJ Health System.

The son of immigrants and a product of eight years in the city’s public school system, Arcabascio said, “I know what people go through in this borough. We don’t get enough funding when 90 percent of the people who come to New York go through Queens,” when they arrive at the two area airports.

“What your voice says is what my voice will be,” Acrabascio told the crowd. “My job is to stand on someone’s throat” until they hear what the people want to say.

He chastised his opponent for borough president, Democrat Melinda Katz, on several issues, including her decision to not take a stand against the planned development at Willets Point until after the new administration is in place.

“Something is not right about that whole situation,” he said.

“You need people who will represent you,” the candidate said. “You need someone with knowledge outside of being a lawyer or being in politics the last 20 years,” a gibe clearly aimed at Katz.

Though the moderator, Greater Whitstone Taxpayers’ Civic Association President Kim Cody, said they were all invited to participate, neither Katz nor the two leading candidates for mayor, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota, attended the meeting.

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