When Rockaway native Gerald Sullivan decided to enter the race for the 23rd Assembly District seat — occupied by Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, a Democrat who has held the seat for 18 years — many area residents didn’t take him too seriously, calling his victory a long shot.
Community members and leaders have said they think the Republican businessman from Breezy Point has little to no chance of competing with Pheffer because she has seniority in the state Assembly and chairs its Committee on Consumer Affairs and Protection.
At a recent “Meet the Candidates” event in Ozone Park, Sullivan was asked why he wants to win the seat, knowing that incoming minority Assembly members have limited power. His response: “I would be a voice for the people who disagree with (Assembly Speaker) Sheldon Silver.”
During that same event, Pheffer touted her seniority and accomplishments she has achieved in nearly two decades as a legislator. She told constituents in attendance that all they have to do is look at those accomplishments and her overall performance as their representative, and the choice will be clear.
Pheffer listed a number of projects, funding and legislation she has brought, and continues to bring, to the district. As chair of the consumer affairs committee alone, Pheffer has helped reform or create major state laws, such as those regarding identity theft, debt practices, lemon laws for cars, free credit reports and child safety.
In addition to talking up her credentials, Pheffer told voters that difficult times are here — and she’s the one best to handle them. “I want to stay to help make cuts that won’t hurt quality of life,” she said, referring to the Legislature’s task of trimming the state budget of an additional $2 billion.
It was on this point that Sullivan was primarily focused. The 41-year-old married father of two said New York will slip into a state-wide recession if the Legislature doesn’t immediately begin to cut spending. “Nothing should be safe from cuts in our budget,” he said.
His primary reason for attempting to win this race, he said, is to bring accountability to the state Legislature. Albany lawmakers must tighten their belts and make decisions that may be difficult, but also worthwhile.
Sullivan said he has years of experience with budget maintenance. He ran two businesses using sound economics, spending and cutting as appropriate and balancing finances. “We should run government that way,” he said. “Grow when you need to grow, shrink when you need to shrink.”
During the event, Sullivan was fervent, but it appeared his campaign lacked that spirit — at least in the northern half of Assembly District 23. He attended few events, sent out few announcements and held hardly any press conferences.
Quite contrarily, Pheffer maintained a calm and composed temperament during the event, but campaigned somewhat vigorously. Already a familiar face and a recognized name in the borough, Pheffer didn’t have to do much. Still, she put herself in the public eye, participating in numerous events and holding press conferences, sending announcements and e-mails and continuing in her Assembly duties.
Regardless of who took which approach, the race between Sullivan and Pheffer, two very different candidates with very different appeal, didn’t get too much attention, as it was overshadowed by the tight 15th Senate District race. Both races will come to a conclusion on Nov. 4.