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Queens Chronicle

Marshall up against three challengers

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Posted: Thursday, September 3, 2009 12:00 am

Queens Borough President Helen Marshall has years of experience in public office and backing from several large donors, but the Democrat is getting a run for her money from three candidates vying for her seat.

Several news organizations were quick to christen Democrat Marc Leavitt, a Sunnyside attorney who won a seat on District 30’s school board two decades ago, the amiable underdog of the group. Prior to throwing his hat in the primary election ring, Leavitt criticized Marshall’s ability to run for a third term without opposition, something that seemed probable after Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park), the ostensible frontrunner, dropped out of the race.

But it seems Leavitt, a Kiwanis Club member and theater performer, has trained his dark horse to jump a few impressive hurdles, raising enough small donations from residents to qualify for public campaign matching funds — the only challenger to do so thus far.

Fellow Democrat Robert Schwartz will also face Marshall in the September primary. The retired former president of Dellwood Dairy Co. is no novice when it comes to campaigning. Last year, he took on state Senator Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) in the 16th Senate District primary, and 22 years prior to that, challenged seasoned Republican state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) in the 11th District Senate race.

Schwartz has said his business experience would be a plus in an economic downturn. He wants to keep both small and large firms in the borough and has said he would canvass Jet Blue to stay in Queens.

Republican Robert Hornak may be off the hook in the primary election, but the Astoria resident’s campaign efforts so far have been anything but easygoing. He runs not one, but two Facebook candidate pages, one of which is called “Democrats for Hornak for Queens Borough President” and has 88 members — arguably, 88 more than former Republican Vice President Dick Cheney ever managed to procure.

So, how does Hornak make friends that cross party lines? The former president and chairman of the New York Young Republican Club has described himself as more of an “idealogue” than a “partisan,” and the website he publishes, Urban Elephant, is a testament to this claim, routinely taking a bite out of the policies of both Democrats and Republicans. Since 2007, Hornak has worked as the deputy director of the Assembly Republican leader’s city office and serves as the senior political advisor for the Congress of Racial Equality.

Marshall, the city’s second female borough president and first African-American to hold the position, has served as Queens borough president since January 2002. The recent extension of term limits has given her a chance to run again.

During her tenure, her efforts have included allocating more than $74 million to the Department of Parks and Recreation and more than $44 million for new libraries, an institution she has repeatedly said she values.

Marshall’s experience and community volunteerism is unrivaled in the race. Beginning in 1982, she served five terms in the New York State Assembly and represented District 21 in the City Council from 1991 until 2000, where she served as chairwoman of the Higher Education Committee and fought against the privatization of remedial programs at the City University of New York. She was also a member of Community Board 3 for 13 years.

Marshall’s critics, however, attacked her after reports were released that she spent almost $100,000 in taxpayer money last year on expenses that included furnishing her office with stately chairs.

The primary is Sept. 15.

Welcome to the discussion.