Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) threw his hat into the race for the 15th Senate District seat held by state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) this week — a move that pits the Republican against a Democrat in a district redrawn to include more conservative neighborhoods and which has been known to be a political wildcard.
“For the past three years, I have been honored to serve the people of my community at City Hall,” Ulrich said in an announcement made Tuesday morning via a number of social media platforms, including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. “I am now ready to take the fight to Albany, where I will be an independent voice for the taxpayers of Queens County. I will be a state senator that never stops fighting for the middle class.”
Addabbo, a former city councilman who has served in the state Senate since defeating Republican Serf Maltese in 2008, said he has been planning “on a campaign long before the announcement.”
“We’re prepared for a race,” Addabbo said. “I’ll focus on the facts of my voting record. We’ll stick to the record, and in the end people will vote for someone who fights for them in Albany.”
Ulrich, who won the City Council seat previously held by Addabbo in a special election in 2009, enters the Senate race in a year when the district has been redrawn to encompass more conservative communities. The state Legislature and Gov. Cuomo approved the new lines in March, which cut portions of Ozone Park and Woodhaven from the 15th Senate District and added more conservative-leaning communities in the Rockaways.
The district includes the communities of Belle Harbor, Breezy Point, Broad Channel, Far Rockaway, Forest Hills, Glendale, Howard Beach, Kew Gardens Hills, Maspeth, Middle Village, Neponsit, Ozone Park, Rego Park, Richmond Hill, Ridgewood, Rockaway Beach, Rockaway Park, South Ozone Park and Woodhaven.
The new areas, which include a large Orthodox Jewish community, could hold Addabbo’s vote to approve same-sex marriage against him, a number of Republicans have said. Prior to backing the marriage equality bill last year, Addabbo had voted against the measure.
“I don’t know what role gay marriage is going to play in this campaign, but I know his flip-flopping is definitely an issue,” Ulrich said. “First he voted against it, saying most of his constituents were against it, and then for it, saying most of his constituents now favored it. I think people are frustrated by that. Joe’s got people upset with him on both sides of the issue.”
Addabbo disagreed, saying he voted for the marriage equality bill because he had polled constituents and found most to be supportive of same-sex marriage.
“Most people have seen a year after the bill that their lives have not changed,” Addabbo said. “The budget, creating jobs, lowering taxes and protecting healthcare —this is what people care about.”
Ulrich also said job creation was a priority for him, as well as investing in transportation and education.
Addabbo also said he does not believe the more conservative district —which still includes more registered Democrats than Republicans —will make a difference in the election’s outcome.
“I’ve been in public service long enough to know that I represent people,” Addabbbo said. “And if it’s a conservative district, the people will reach out to me and give me their views, and that’s the voice I take back to Albany.”
It took merely minutes after Ulrich’s announcement before Republicans and Democrats jumped to back their respective candidates. Even the Queens County Republicans, with whom Ulrich has sparred and said did not back him in his previous election, have said they are throwing their weight behind the councilman.
“For the past four years, we’ve been encouraging, enticing and cajoling Eric to take on Addabbo because Addabbo has been a great disappointment to the people of Queens,” said Vince Tabone, executive vice chairman of the Queens GOP. “We’re very excited Eric is taking this step.”
While Republicans pointed out that Addabbo has about $1,685 on hand for his campaign, Democrats said the party will funnel funds into the race.
“Few public servants have done more than Sen. Joe Addabbo to stand up for the working families of Queens,” said Josh Cherwin, executive director of the New York Senate Democrats. “For years Joe has been a tireless advocate on behalf of the people he represents, which is why voters continue to return him to the office by significant margins. We expect the same to happen this year.”
Like their Queens counterparts, state Republicans said they too are pleased Ulrich has jumped in the race.
“We think he’ll be a top-flight challenger,” said Scott Reif, a spokesman for the Senate Republicans. “He’s done a lot of good things in the City Council. We think he has a strong chance of winning the seat.”
But Nick Roloson, president of the Queens County Young Democrats, said Addabbo has wide support. Roloson also disagreed with Ulrich that Addabbo’s support for marriage equality would hurt him in the election.
“Joe stood up for values I think everybody can get behind,” Roloson said. “… Marriage equality is something everyone will eventually agree with.”
Roloson did recognize that the district seems more conservative-leaning with redistricting.
“The redistricting process was very friendly to the conservatives,” Roloson said. “They drew it so it would be easier for a Republican to challenge Joe, and I’m sure they had marriage equality on their minds when they did that.”