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Queens Chronicle

Queens boro prez field starts to form

Feb. special election likely; 2 pols have declared and more are considering it

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Posted: Thursday, August 15, 2019 10:30 am

Election season isn’t over in Queens this year.

Not for long, anyway.

Having finally secured the Democratic nod for district attorney last week, Borough President Melinda Katz is widely expected to breeze past her Republican opponent in November. And there is a growing field of politicians, some of them facing term limits, who aim to replace her.

A nonpartisan special election is highly likely to take place in February 2020 for the borough presidency. It would be followed by primary and general elections for the post in the fall; the winner in November would serve the rest of Katz’s term, which expires in 2021.

“It’ll be a big field,” St. John’s University political science professor Brian Browne told the Chronicle. “Anything can happen, as we saw with the DA race that was just concluded.”

The position, which has few formal powers, is considered to be a stepping stone for higher office. Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman (D-Springfield Gardens), who chairs the Subcommittee on the Tuition Assistance Program, has filed to run for it. City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), chairman of the Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations Committee, announced his candidacy in April. Neither candidate could immediately be reached for comment.

Five other Queens lawmakers and one former one are viewed as possible borough president candidates.

Public defender Tiffany Cabán, the insurgent district attorney candidate who lost to Katz by just 55 votes, is not expected to run for borough president. According to news website The City, she does not plan on running for the office but may be open to seeking a different one in the future.

Hyndman represents a section of Southeast Queens, a part of the borough with a notably high share of Democratic voters. Katz’s success there was critical to her district attorney race win. Hyndman might not be the only borough president candidate from the area, though: City Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton), whose district overlaps with hers, is often mentioned as a likely candidate. He could not be reached for comment before deadline.

Elsewhere in the borough, Van Bramer may not be the only lawmaker from western Queens, where Cabán performed best, vying for borough president. City Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria), chairman of the Environmental Protection Committee, is considering jumping in.

“I’m still exploring what my future holds, but I believe the next Queens Borough President must have a bold plan for how to protect our 2.4 million residents from the dangerous and damaging impacts of climate change while creating tens of thousands of good-paying jobs,” Constantinides said in a prepared statement. “We’re the Borough that kick-started the Green New Deal, and we should lead the way going forward.”

While Democrats will likely dominate the field, Queens’ only Republican lawmaker may jump in. A source close to City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) said he is still “considering” throwing his hat in the ring.

A moderate GOP official, Ulrich ran in the special election for public advocate this year, finishing in second place across the city but winning Queens by about 6 percent.

One of his rivals in the public advocate contest, Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing), is also a possible borough president contender.

“I’m focused on the work that I’m doing in the Assembly for now and I’m looking to see who’s running and what they’re running on,” he said in an interview. “I care very deeply about issues in Queens, dealing with protecting independently owned small businesses and making sure that we stop subsidizing so many of these chain stores and big corporations.”

His decision to run or not will largely hinge on whether the other candidates “step up and try to champion these issues,” the assemblyman added.

Kim’s district overlaps with that of City Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside), a centrist Democrat from a Queens political dynasty who chairs the Committee on Economic Development. The Chronicle could not immediately reach him for comment.

In a sign of how crowded the race may be, Vallone isn’t even the only potential contender with a big family name. Another one, former Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, opened an exploratory committee last year for a potential borough president bid. More recently, she’s been on a “listening and learning tour” that’s taken her around Queens. In the Council, she represented Maspeth, Middle Village, Glendale and parts of Ridgewood and Woodhaven before losing her re-election bid in 2017 to Robert Holden (D-Middle Village).

“I’m really encouraged by the amount of grassroots support,” she said in an interview. “I have a lot of small dollar contributions from Queens residents.”

Although she is a cousin of former Democratic Organization of Queens County Chairman Rep. Joe Crowley, the former lawmaker said she thinks voters know her more by her record than name.

She also noted that she went against the party machine in 2012, when she ran for a congressional seat that her cousin was supporting a different candidate for.

Browne, the St. John’s University professor, noted that the special election’s outcome may highlight the political differences between Western and Eastern Queens that were fully on display in the district attorney race.

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