The race to replace outbound and embattled Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) heated up Tuesday night at a forum held by the Auburndale Improvement Association at St. Kevin’s Church, as candidates tried to balance staying on message while answering a battery of specific questions presented by the civic.
The group devised a strict format for the evening, allotting 15 total minutes to every candidate. The first three minutes were dedicated to introductory statements. The remaining 12 were meant to address a list of questions handed to them ahead of time, covering topics such as overdevelopment, real estate taxes and the Federal Aviation Administration’s new and disruptive flight patterns to LaGuardia. There would then be three audience-submitted questions.
At least that was the plan. It’s only the petition-gathering stage of a race that will last into September, and the five Democrats vying for the 19th Council District seat are already thinking of novel ways to set themselves apart from a crowded pack.
The resulting presentations saw some candidates lobbing underhanded barbs at their opponents, while others varied from strictly sticking to format to abandoning it altogether. Some didn’t deviate much from the palm cards and campaign literature they splayed across a table at the entrance. And despite announcing he would not seek re-election over a month ago, Halloran’s misdeeds were used as a talking point by several candidates.
On the issues, most of the candidates seemed to have swiped a cheat sheet from the same mythical focus-group-tested talking points. The phrase “quality of life” was said at various points nearly two dozen times.
The burgeoning community has faced developer-related headaches, but most candidates took an anti-development stance. Ditto for development in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, increasing funding for nonprofits and all said boo to real estate tax increases.
The runners did differ on their stances on Participatory Budgeting, which urban planner and activist PaulGraziano likened to a popularity contest, while Station Road Civic co-founder and former Halloran Chief of Staff Chrissy Voskerichian signed a pledge to keep the practice alive.
And while the minutia of the 12-pointed questions can be deciphered through campaign literature, the passive interaction among the candidates was more telling.
The rules dictated the candidates would speak on a first-come, first-serve basis. The race’s two Pauls — Graziano and Community Board 7 member and political scion Paul Vallone — arrived two minutes apart with Vallone coming in second.
A perturbed Vallone opened his remarks by noting Graziano refused to acquiesce his opening speaking slot despite the former’s prior commitments to his daughter’s soccer team, calling it an embodiment of some of his opponent’s character, without actually naming who he was talking about.
Welcome to the contest for the 19th Council District.
The event’s other candidates oscillated from there, embodied at times by former Assemblyman John Duane’s forceful promises of strict enforcement actions and repercussions for seemingly anyone who breaks any rules. At other moments, promises of consensus building and community bonafides were touted by Voskerichian.
Some also came touting a number of endorsements, with Vallone noting the backing of the Queens Democratic Party and Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-Bayside). Graziano brandished the backing of former Councilman and current state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside). And long-time legislative staffer Austin Shaffran has been compiling a fair share of labor endorsements.
In some cases, blatant dodges or outright lies were spoken. When asked about the source of his contributions — specifically if any of them came from lobbyists or developers — Vallone launched into a big wet kiss for the Campaign Finance Board’s work, and voters’ ability to check out his campaign funding sources themselves.
But probably most brazen was Duane’s assertion that he left the state Assembly to spend time with his family and focus on work in the private sector, neglecting to mention this reassessment came after he ran and lost a re-election campaign.