Road to November
Meng-Halloran Highlights Queens Congressional Contests
By ROSS BARKAN
|Councilman Dan Halloran has been meeting voters and working to get their message out as the November election gets closer.
While most eyes are trained on the presidential battle between incumbent Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, Queens is not without its own electoral clashes. On a Congressional level, several races are set for the Nov. 6 election, including a rare incumbent-free election.
That match-up, between Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) and Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), is the most competitive Congressional race this fall. Competing for the new 6th District, a Queens-only district spanning neighborhoods like Middle Village, Elmhurst, Forest Hills, Flushing and Bayside, Halloran and Meng are in this race because the incumbent, U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside), opted not to seek another term.
In June, Meng prevailed over her three primary opponents, including elected officials Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest), by a wide margin. She is heavily favored in an overwhelmingly Democratic district and will also benefit from 2012 being a presidential election year; many political observers predict Democrats turning out to vote for Obama will also flick the lever for Meng. Green Party candidate Evergreen Chou is also on the ballot.
The Meng camp is not taking Halloran lightly. Since her victory in June, Halloran has run a highly aggressive campaign that blasted Meng for not supporting Israel fervently enough and allegedly focusing on the Chinese community at the expense of other ethnic groups. Halloran himself drew fire for calling Meng a “Chinese national” in an interview with an Israeli newspaper, though Halloran later claimed he was misquoted. He also made the inaccurate assertion that Meng holds dual citizenship in the U.S. and China. “The tactics that Halloran is using are very indicative of the exact problems and gridlock we see in Congress,” Meng said. “I didn’t want to see race or religion brought into this campaign.”
Money is the larger issue for Halloran’s campaign: as of June 30, he has raised about $19,000, a small fraction of Meng’s more than a million dollars. Halloran’s hope, according to political operatives, is that more conservative voters from the district’s western portion turn out in large enough numbers to offset Meng’s Democratic base and that Jewish voters are convinced that Meng is not supportive enough of Israel’s security.
Early this month, Halloran met with the Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel, Yonah Metzger, to discuss Israel’s security and Iran’s potential development of nuclear weapons. The discussion was held in the presence of Jewish media and represented Halloran’s ongoing efforts to court them.
“There has been no attention paid to the issues in Flushing; she’s talked about the English signage issue. Has anything happened? Has she done anything in Albany to make that possible?” Halloran said, referring to proposals to mandate the amount of English signage in front of businesses in New York City. “Let’s look at her attendance record: I had a brain tumor, I missed 5 percent of Council meetings. She missed 77 percent.”
The 6th District is quite diverse. 38 percent is Asian, 18 percent is Hispanic and 4 percent is Black. The remaining portion is white and the Jewish community, though not counted in Census figures, makes up more than 20 percent of the population, according to various estimates. When registered voters are taken into account, whites are a little over half the district and Asians are 28 percent. The Hispanic total of 16 percent is slightly lower and the Black population of registered voters is very similar.
Israel in Queens
The Meng and Halloran campaigns can make it seem like Israel is literally located in Queens, though that is true, at least in the case of U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Hauppauge), poised to represent the neighborhoods of Douglaston, Little Neck and Whitestone. Though Israel’s district used to only include Long Island, it was drawn into Queens and renumbered the 3rd, after once being known as the 2nd. Israel has a Republican challenger in Stephen Labate, an Iraq War veteran and Ozone Park native. More so than even Meng, Israel is the heavy favorite. In addition to being an incumbent, Israel is also chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
In Southeast Queens, U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) is expected to win another term, but his opponent is not an unknown. Former Democratic Councilman Allan Jennings, now running on the Republican line after competing on the Republican and Democrat lines in the primary, is seeking to unseat Meeks, who has been in office since 1998. The new 5th District, beyond Southeast Queens, also encompasses the entirety of the Rockaway peninsula and parts of Nassau County.
The fiery Jennings was a controversial figure in the City Council, where he served from 2001 until 2005. He was censured by the City Council after two female staffers accused him of sexual harassment.
A political watchdog group, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, named Meeks one of the nation’s most “corrupt” elected officials. The House Ethics Committee is currently investigating him.
U.S. Rep, Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), chair of the Queens Democratic Party, faces Republican opposition in William Gibbons Jr. and a Green Party candidate, Anthony Gronowicz. Crowley’s 14th Congressional District spans western Queens and portions of the Bronx and it is highly unlikely Crowley will lose his seat. In 2010, Crowley trounced a Republican challenger.
“Crowley was chosen by his predecessor, in essence anointed,” said Gronowicz, a political historian. “Incumbency is a powerful incentive to a lot of voters. If he hasn’t been indicted, he must be okay, the thinking goes.”
U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria) is likely to win reelection against Republican Christopher Wight, who took a leave of absence from his job as an investment banker at J.P. Morgan to run for Congress. U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Ridgewood) is running unopposed for another term, representing Brooklyn and portions of western Queens, while Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn) is poised to win the 8th District, which includes eastern Brooklyn and portions of Howard Beach and Ozone Park. Jeffries’ Republican opponent is Alan Bellone. His Green Party opponent is Colin Beavan. In a well-publicized Democratic primary, Jeffries routed Councilman Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn).
Reach Reporter Ross Barkan at email@example.com or (718) 357-7400, Ext. 127.