JEREMY OLSHAN & MELANIE CARROLL
Dost thou so hunger for my empty chair
That thou wilt needs invest thee with my honours
Before thy hour be ripe? O foolish youth!
Henry IV, Part 2
The American Revolution was fought in the belief that even in a county named for a
Queen there should be no divine rights of kings.
But as term limits mark the end of many a political tenure, some officials and party
leaders believe that their next of kin should be next in line.
Peter Jr. and Paul are
political squires - heirs to the
Peter Vallone Jr. announced this week that he is
considering a bid to replace his father in the City Council while his father
prepares to campaign for the mayoralty. Shortly after the passing of State Senator Leonard
Stavisky, the Democratic party endorsed Staviskys wife Toby to run for the seat, and
insiders believe that their son Evan may become the district leader. And, according to
some insiders, Assemblyman Denis Butler hopes that his son, Denis, Jr., will one day
replace him in the legislature.
But this is nothing new in Queens. When Assembly Speaker
Saul Weprin passed away in 1994, his son Mark was elected to his seat in a special
election, and his son David became a district leader. And in 1998, City Comptroller Alan
Hevesi did not even need to campaign for the election of his son Dan to the state senate;
his candidacy was unopposed.
Children of political families say that they were instilled
with the ideals of public service from an early age. Opponents say that this is little
more than nepotism, noting that a 1994 study found that one in 10 state legislators had a
relative on the payroll.
"New York has a long tradition of dynasties,"
said Mitchell Moss, a Professor at the Taub Center for Urban Research at New York
University. "Its not a surprise. Its like the Trumps you might
compare them to the Roosevelts or the Wagners; its not unique to have politically
active offspring. Its a tradition. But in Queens, the number of families involved is
So is this trend unique to Queens? And if so, is this
necessarily a bad thing?
Voting For Junior
Waiting for Paul Vallone to pick up the phone at Vallone
& Vallone, the law firm in Astoria where brothers Peter Jr. and Paul Vallone practice
law, the recorded, on-hold message repeats, "For almost 70 years and three
generations, we have been involved in public service and legal representation."
Paul, 32, the youngest of the Vallone clan said "There
is no Vallone dynasty
first and fore-most, we are Dads sons and his most loyal
While Peter Vallone Sr.s mayoral campaign is not yet
official, because of term limits, he cannot be reelected to the City Council.
Meanwhile, Peter Jr., 38, is holding a $300 per person fund
raiser on July 7 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in East Elmhurst; the former Manhattan
assistant district attorney said his fathers bid for mayor is his priority. "My
primary concern is my father," he said. "If my candidacy would hurt my father, I
would pull out. Should he decide to run, he would be a formidable mayor. He has a
reputation for integrity, honesty and compassion. I want to emulate him."
But George Delis, who serves as District Manager of
Community Board 1, and who may run for the same City Council seat as Peter Jr., thinks his
likely young opponent lacks experience. "He may be Vallones son. He brings the
name. I bring 22 years of experience. I might run for it; Im not intimidated,"
said Delis. "If families like the Staviskys and the Vallones continue to command
politics, the public will get turned off. They just wont want to vote."
Whats In A Name?
Whether choosing a detergent or a democrat, our decisions
are greatly influenced by tried and tested "brand names." Campaign managers and
political insiders will attest that this is the single greatest advantage that children of
"A political family name brings with it a lot of
political capital," said Paul Kerson, a prominent Queens attorney who has often been
critical of the machinery of Queens politics. "Voters do not even necessarily know
that they are voting for the son instead of the father."
"If youre Peter Vallone Jr., you dont have
to buy identity, which is usually the most expensive part of any campaign," said Hank
Sheinkopf, a political consultant.
But to the children of politicians themselves, a name will
only get you so far.
David and Mark Weprin have
continued in the legacy of their father Saul. One can only wonder about the next
"People did not vote for me because I am Saul
Weprins son," said Assembly-man Mark Weprin. "They vote for me for who I
am and what I bring to the job. I probably would not have been in politics if it were not
for my dad, because I would not have grown up learning the business and its
State Senator Dan Hevesi, 29, said that having a name often
puts you under a higher degree of scrutiny. "We have to overcome the notion that we
do not deserve to be here," he said.
And having a name does not in itself seal an election,
added Weprin. "That is why we have elections." Councilman Walter McCaffrey
agreed. "Ultimately the voters end up being very discerning," he said. "A
name in itself is not going to sustain you."
But the problem, according to Kerson, is that the voters
never get the opportunity to be discerning, because the Democratic party leadership puts
their support behind one candidate with widespread support, in the hopes that a primary
can be avoided.
Dan Hevesi followed in
his father's high-tops, both in Albany and on the court.
"Queens has an aversion to conflict," added
Sheinkopf. "You can almost count the number of real races on one hand."
A Level Playing Field?
Bernice Siegal, counsel to Councilman Sheldon Leffler,
plans to run for her boss seat. She believes voters need to ask, Who are these
people? What have they done to be considered for any elected position? "In some races
people are not asking the right questions," Siegal added.
Siegal has trust in the voting public to voice their
opinions and re-open the political process when necessary. "People voted in term
limits as well as campaign finance reform. The playing field has been leveled a bit
The United States broke away from a system of royalty. Im not sure that people will
vote simply for a name. The electorates have a choice."
However, political insiders make it clear that the
Democratic organization will put their support behind David Weprin son of Saul and
brother of Mark.