2011-05-06 / Top Stories

Race Begins For Assembly Seat

By Howard Schwach

When Audrey Pheffer was named the new Queens County Clerk last week, her appointment touched off an electoral sprint on the part of several local politicians who would like nothing more than to take her place in Albany.

The Assembly vacancy will not be official until after May 12, when Pheffer steps down from her seat to take the county position.

She has already turned her Democratic leadership position over to her longtime aide, Jo Ann Shapiro.

She cannot, however, turn her Assembly slot over to another person.

There will be a special election later this year to fill her position, and it is expected to draw a wide range of candidates.

A special election for a state seat is very different from the special election that put Eric Ulrich into the City Council last year.

Each of the five major parties that hold a ballot line – the Democrats, the Republicans, the Working Families, the Conservative and the Independent Parties – would be able to place its own candidate on the ballot.

Those not designated by a party would still be able to get on the ballot as well, through the petitioning process. Those candidates would need about 1,500 signatures to make the ballot, election officials say.

The major party candidates would be chosen not by a primary, but by the party’s District Leaders elected in the Assembly District. That means the Democratic candidate would be chosen by four people – Jo Ann Shapiro, Frank Gulluscio, Lew Simon and Geraldine Chapey. Should there be a tie, Queens Democratic Leader Joseph Crowley would cast his vote to break the tie.

In the Republican Party, the decision on the candidate will be made by City Councilman Eric Ulrich and Republican District Leader Jane Deacy, a Breezy Point resident. A tie would be broken by Phil Ragusa, the Queens Republican Leader.

Each of the other parties has a similar procedure for choosing a candidate for the special election, but longtime election watchers say that often those parties hook up with a major party candidate.

For example, the Democratic candidate is often the candidate for the Working Families as well. Similarly, the Republican Party and the Conservative Party often run the same candidate, they say.

Many names are being bandied about by locals who speculate on who the candidates of the two major parties might be.

On the Democratic side, one of the more prominent names is that of Shapiro, who told The Wave this week that she is “absolutely interested in running to fill Pheffer’s seat.

“I have had 24 years as the chief of staff for Audrey and there is no candidate with more experience or knowledge of the Assembly than I have,” Shapiro said that week. “I have worked side by side with her and she has been my role model. Hers are big shoes to fill, but I am the most qualified to fill those shoes.”

Shapiro added that she has other experience in the community as well.

“My husband and I have a business in the community, we have a home in the community, we are active in civic affairs and in a number of other areas.”

Other possible candidates mentioned by Democratic insiders include Simon, Gulluscio and Y. Phillip Goldfeder, a former Bloomberg aide now working for Senator Charles Schumer. Another local Democrat, Paul Schubert, who bills himself as the “Rockaway Tiger” has indicated that he will petition for a spot on the ballot.

Insiders say that Goldfeder would be the favorite of the Orthodox Jewish constituency at the eastern end of the 23rd Assembly District.

On the Republican side, names being mentioned are Deacy, Gerry Sullivan, an aide to Ulrich, Joanne Ariola, who ran an unsuccessful campaign against Pheffer ten years ago, and Bob Turner, who lost the last Congressional election to Anthony Weiner.

Many of those candidates are being coy about their intention to run, at least until the governor officially declares the vacancy.

Frank Gulluscio told The Wave this week that he is out of the race.

“Running for the Assembly seat is not on my radar at this time, the mainland community board district manager said. “I am fine right where I am and I will support whomever the county organization nominates.”

“Whoever runs,” he added, “will have to have deep pockets because there are no matching funds in a special election like this. The winner will be looking at a primary in less than a year. Not everybody has that kind of resources.”

Democratic District Leader Lew Simon says on his answering machine message that he is running for the seat and he asks for the support of callers.

“I do not want to announce as yet,” Simon told The Wave when he returned the call. “I’m waiting for Cuomo to declare the seat vacant and then I’ll declare my candidacy. I’m waiting to see what’s coming, but I will be in the race.”

Schubert, the new face on the block, says that he has already done a lot for Rockaway residents, taking credit for “boardwalk wheelchair ramps, traffic lights and subway infrastructure.”

Phil Goldfedder told The Wave this week that he cannot discuss his political plans because his boss, Senator Charles Schumer, does not allow such comment.

A source close to Goldfedder, however, said that he “aspires to do community service on a high level,” and that, “should the opportunity present itself, he may run.”

The source, who asked not to be identified because he has “no permission to speak with the press,” added that both Pheffer and Shapiro were his “political mentors” and that he “appreciates everything that they had done for him over the years.”

“This is going to play out over the next several months, and he’s going to wait and see what happens,” the source concluded.

On the Republican side, the race seems to be between Deacy and Sullivan.

Sullivan could not be reached for comment, but Deacy told The Wave on Sunday that she is definitely interested in running for the seat.

“We have to wait for the vacancy to become official,” Deacy said. “I am definitely interested in pursing my candidacy as soon as the governor makes it official.”

Under election law, Cuomo decides when to call the special election after the Assembly seat is officially vacated, but he has no obligation to do so, according to state Board of Elections spokesperson John Conklin. Once he does declare the seat vacant, however, a special election must be held sometime between 60 and 70 days after the proclamation.

If that clock starts on May 12, when Pheffer officially vacates her Assembly seat, the earliest a special election could be held would be June 12, which is not a long time for candidates to get on board and for petitions to be signed.

Insiders say that Cuomo will hold off declaring the seat vacant and setting a date for a special election until the prospective candidates have their petitions lined up and ready to go. That could well push the decision until the end of the summer.

Could the governor hold the proclamation until the next general election in September, thereby saving the money it would cost to run the special election and placing it under general election rules?

He could, Conklin says, “but why would he want to.”

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