The race for the 19th Council District has a set candidate for the Republican Party. Well, it had one up until Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) was arrested on corruption charges in April.
The incumbent has since announced he will not seek re-election, leaving the door open for a fresh-faced Republican to enter a field that is seemingly growing in number by the week.
Enter Dennis Saffran, an attorney and member of the Douglaston Civic Association, who is giving a political campaign another try as Halloran’s inglorious fall gives him a second chance at an office he ran for 12 years ago.
“I want to restore integrity and honesty in government,” he said in an interview. “I want to restore the Republican Party’s reputation and restore the level of integrity this district expects and deserves.”
Saffran is running at a time when the borough’s GOP remains balkanized over a leadership fight. But the former candidate seems himself as above the fray.
“I have tried to maintain good relations with both sides,” he said, alluding to the insurgent group of Republicans led by Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park). “Consequently I’m not seen as completely one side.”
Saffran feels the 19th District is a lot less blue than the five Democrats vying for the seat think.
“Politically, as I say, it’s a Giuliani Democratic district,” he said, referring to the former mayor. “This is not the Upper West Side or Park Slope.”
That leaves a nice opening for a Republican bolstered by the endorsement of former state Sen. Frank Padavan, whose 38-year tenure in the district colors its perception as a pragmatic center-right collection of neighborhoods.
To that end, Saffran admits to being a Democrat in his youth, saying, “In a place like New York, that’s where Republicans come from. They’re Democrats who left the party for one reason or another.”
Saffran’s issue list includes meat-and-potato local government fare, and in some respects his campaign platform is fueled by an allegiance to pragmatism. Quality of life, public safety, education, overdevelopment, integrity in government … as you’d expect.
To those ends though, Saffran is tough to nail down. He’s a strong supporter of stop and frisk, but he’s cautious about allowing developers to have free rein over their respective plots of land. In neighborhoods beleaguered by out-of-character development, a candidate’s stance on variances and property rights can be key.
“It is something you’ve got to decide on a case-by-case basis,” he said. “I’m more sympathetic to the so-called NYMBYs. I don’t think anybody should have a homeless shelter next door. People move here for a little piece of the American dream. I have qualms when it starts becoming the aesthetics police.”
Saffran comes along at a time when the GOP is associated nationally with a sort of slash-and-burn approach to all vestiges of government. It’s something he acknowledges, and is trying to avoid.
“I’m not one of these knee-jerk antigovernment, all-government-is-bad Republicans,” he said. “I believe it is crucial to have a lot of regulatory protections for consumers, for workers, for tenants, for the environment. Petty regulations that nobody can explain the purpose of on the other hand …”
A dozen years ago, when Saffran lost his first shot at the Council, he faced an upstart community activist — a man by the name of Tony Avella, with name recognition within the district well beyond the average candidate’s.
Saffran lost by a scant 400 votes. He plans on cutting it just as close this time.
“I think I’ll win the same way Republicans have won this district before,” he said. “Which is the combination of the base Republican and Conservative votes, as well as the Giuliani Democrats.”