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Queens Chronicle

Opportunity could arise in 23rd AD

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Posted: Thursday, January 13, 2011 12:00 am

Could south Queens see its third special election in three years in 2011?

Voters initially put Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) and Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) into office by way of special election in 2009, and could have the opportunity to fill the seat for the 23rd Assembly District that way as well.

Speculation has been swirling that Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park) is a favorite to be appointed to the Queens County clerk job, left vacant by the death last month of Gloria D’Amico, who had served in that capacity since 1991.

If Pheffer does assume the post, Gov. Cuomo would likely call a special election to fill the remaining time left in her Assembly term.

Nothing is official, however, and Pheffer is currently serving in her role as assemblywoman.

But, she did tell the Queens Chronicle that the move would interest her.

“If the position is offered to me, I would consider accepting it,” Pheffer said.

Pheffer would have to be appointed by the presiding judge of the Second Department, an appointee of former Republican Gov. George Pataki. But county Democratic leadership would likely lobby hard on behalf of Pheffer.

If the move does come to fruition, south Queens voters may have multiple candidates to choose from.

Harold Paez, the Republican who unsuccessfully challenged Pheffer last November for the seat, said he would “consider the idea at length” after discussing it with the local and county GOP leadership, and believes the seat is ripe for a Republican takeover.

“Personally, I think that any long-term Democrat incumbent is faced with a very stark reality in Albany this year; the fact that business as usual cannot continue,” Paez said.“Challenged with another $8-10 billion budget gap and the continued stagnation in the nationaljob market, the Assembly majority will be making some very difficult choices against the will of their long-time supporters in the education and healthcare sectors.”

Paez also touted that he received 33 percent of the vote last year despite being “a first-time, self-funded candidate with only 16 weeks of campaigning.”

Queens County Republican Party Chairman Phil Ragusa said that if a special election is called, there’s a good chance of the party taking over what has been a longtime Democratic seat.

“Absolutely, I think it’s possible,” Ragusa said about the possibility of a Republican winning.

“We have done fairly well with special elections in the past,” he added, noting Ulrich’s victory in the 32nd Council District, and a special election victory by Anthony Como in the 30th City Council District in 2008.

State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach), a longtime elected representative in south Queens, said “anything can happen in a special election,” but believes his party will be able to mobilize voters and hold on to the seat.

Addabbo declined to say if he would endorse any specific candidate if there is a special election, or who he might like to see run.

“Out of respect for Audrey, I don’t think it’s right to comment,” he said. “Audrey is still the assemblywoman there.”

Sources have said that some of the Democrats who ran in the special election Ulrich won could enter the fray for the Assembly seat.

Lew Simon, the Democratic district leader from the Rockaways who finished second to Ulrich in that election, said he would likely be interested in running if the 23rd AD seat became vacant.

“I want to make a difference for this district,” Simon said.

Simon added that his platform would include eliminating the Cross Bay Bridge toll for residents and to “create jobs for the district.”

Like Paez, Simon said he would consult party leaders before making any official announcement if the seat does open up.

Others mentioned for the seat include JoAnn Shapiro, Pheffer’s chief of staff, and Phillip Goldfeder, director of intergovernmental affairs for Sen. Chuck Schumer.

Steven Stites, a consultant who’s worked on several races in Queens, said the demographic of the district is one that could be favorable to a Republican, but the party hasn’t often put money and resources into Assembly races because it is such a significant minority in that house of legislature.

However, with Republicans picking up seven seats in the Assembly last November, the party may view a potential race for this Assembly seat with greater interest.

Welcome to the discussion.