Here Comes The Judge!
By John McLoughlin
After months of anticipation, State Senator Al Waldon was appointed as a judge to the Court of Claims on Tuesday, December 14. A special election will be announced to fill the vacancy in the near future.
Waldon was rewarded for his cross-party endorsement of Governor George Pataki in the 1998 gubernatorial race against Democratic challenger Peter Vallone. Pataki nominated Waldon to the Court of Claims, with a term expiring December, 2005.
The Wave first announced the nomination in the June 12 edition, but the appointment was not confirmed until this past Tuesday. It was expected that the nomination would have sailed through the state senate chambers, but according to a source, Republican Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and other senate Republicans were not thrilled with Pataki's selection of a Democrat for the position.
Court of Claims is a statewide court responsible for hearing and determining claims of money damages against the state, by the state against a claimant, or between conflicting claimants. Waldon will be filling a vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Albert Binder.
"I am very excited at the prospect of becoming a judge with the Court of Claims," Waldon said. "I have held a position in every branch of government except the judiciary and this is a wonderful way to make the transition."
Waldon's record of service covers more than four decades in virtually every aspect of public service. He joined the New York City Housing Police in 1662, where he rose to the rank of captain and became the first African-American in the nation to head a major metropolitan police academy.
In 1975, Waldon was appointed as deputy commissioner for the New York State Division of Human Rights and was elected to the state assembly in 1982. In 1986, he became the first African-American to represent Queens in the U.S. House of Representatives, when he won a special election to serve the people of the Sixth Congressional District. After being defeated by Floyd Flake, Waldon went on to serve as the commissioner of the New York State Commission of Investigation and was elected to the state senate in 1991.
"There are a lot of things I will miss," said Waldon. "I have always taken a degree of pride in coming to Albany to do the people's business"
Now that the senate seat is vacated, Governor Pataki will announce a special election within 60 days. It is expected that the election will be held mid-February or early March.
Malcolm Smith, an aide to former Congressman Floyd Flake and a local developer, told The Wave on Wednesday, December 15 that he is a candidate for the state senate.
Smith spoke about the need for economic development and job opportunities in the Rockaways, and said one of his initial steps as senator would be to bring Governor Pataki to the community. "Pataki and the State Department of Economic Development are aware of Technodome," said Smith, "but they have not signed off on the necessary dollars." Smith believes that to build up a demand for commercial development, residential development is needed. He said, "Rockaway is on the right track," with the market proving that there is a demand for new housing.
Endorsed by Congressman Gregory Meeks, Smith committed to opening a Rockaway office if elected.
Jo Ann Shapiro, presently chief-of-staff to Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, also informed The Wave that she will be seeking the nomination of the Democratic party. As the only Rockaway resident presently in the race, Shapiro expressed her excitement at the thought of representing the entire Rockaways. Saying that she "eats, lives and breathes the issues" affecting Rockaway, Shapiro sees herself being the best prepared person for the job.
Henry McCoy, a Democratic district leader from Queens, has also been mentioned as a contender.
Once the Democratic leadership chooses their nominee, the other candidates either have to drop out or seek another party's endorsement. Shapiro said seeking another party's endorsement "would not be my attention…not a productive avenue for Rockaway."
Republican Party officials did not return calls as of press time, but Wave columnist Beverly Baxter was speaking with Republican leaders about a possible run. Queens Conservative leader Tom Long, a Breezy Point resident, said they hope to work with the Republican leadership in finding a candidate to "give the people a choice."
All candidates for the state senate seat will be interviewed by The Wave and published in a future edition.