Beep, Beep, Make Way For 2009
By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
Three weeks ago, in a column titled “Where Will They Be In 2009?” I commented about the next political step for each of the 13 term limited Queens Council members.
The column received a number of off-the-record reactions from political insiders and has led me to follow up with a similar effort concerning who may be the next Queens Borough President.
As three weeks ago, there’s a bit of whimsy in this column.
I have not researched or made phone calls to verify my presentation. I’m relying on rumor, emails and calls to me, hunch and common sense. I have enough confidence in my political savvy that I can prognosticate without verifying. After all, I’m writing about New York City elections in 2009 – way more than two years away.
I should ask a potential candidate? C’mon. They don’t always tell the truth. Often they don’t know and finally, situations change.
So here it is. My evaluation – 2-1/2 years out, on who may be in the hunt when Helen Marshall finishes her second term and is prohibited from running again.
Leroy Comrie looms large on the horizon – forgive me Leroy. Two and a half years out, he is the front runner. But being the frontrunner this far out is not always good. It gives your opponents and enemies plenty of time to derail your train. It gives the backroom whispers plenty of time to find the fuel to ignite a fire. It makes you a target. And as you get further out in front, the bigger target you become.
Leroy Comrie is a small target now. But he’s easy to find as he polishes his operation and consolidates his lead.
Leroy is possibly the most likeable member of the Queens Council delegation. He is its leader through consensus building. His advocacy is consistent and calm. His positions are either out of pragmatism or passion. He is bright and thoughtful.
He is also black – a Caribbean American. Racial balance matters to both the politicians and the people. The minority community with the support of the Queens Democratic organization, witnessed Helen Marshall become the first black to claim the Borough Presidency. The black leaders of the borough and Queens Dem Leader Congressman Joe Crowley would cement a formidable alliance by returning the seat to their community.
Rance Huff has recently joined Comrie’s staff. We watched his skillful press work in the office of Yvette Clark whose impressive Council operation won her a Brooklyn Congressional seat. Huff, the media master behind her effort, is now molding Comrie’s image. Leroy’s recent N-word symbolic ban resolution was a creative focal point for the new effort. The coverage Leroy received from it was astounding – the Daily Show indeed moved him onto the next level of media exposure. He played it cool and got the airtime while still keeping his dignity on Comedy Central.
Leroy has yet to demonstrate his ability to raise money with the big boys. If he has the Dem machine, it will be helpful. His fundraising will require him to reach out to many whom he’d rather avoid. Such is the game of political fundraising. He’ll find it distasteful.
His size and slow thoughtful manner are contrary to today’s political image building. Leroy is not the master of the 30-second sound bite and his physical image will not win over voters. Although he keeps an active and hectic schedule, he looks like he needs to start training for the Beep marathon. He has the spirit and commitment; now he needs the discipline.
Peter Vallone Jr., the heir apparent to the District Attorney office when Dick Brown retires -- perhaps sometime in the next decade -- is starting to make noise in the Beep candidate circles. Vallone is a formidable candidate for any office.
His family network – dad was Council Speaker and a candidate for Governor and Mayor – brings the connection and fundraising connections to propel Pete Jr. into Citywide prominence. His focus as Council Chair of the Public Safety Committee has not gone unnoticed by the press or the people. He is hard working and can be single-mindedly focused when and if he gets going.
His single issue of Public Safety has earned him the reputation as the spokesperson for law and order. His anti-graffiti campaign has made him the target of graffiti taggers. His Court TV commentary has elevated his profile. His close work with Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has given him added credibility. He starts off with borough-wide name recognition far better than any other candidate. He is bright and knows the game. He is aggressive and independent.
His independence will make it unlikely to win support of the Dem County organization. He’ll have to work to get and stay on the ballot. He will have to put it together at the grassroots level. He appears to be a single issue candidate – law and order may be the best issue, but will it be enough or will Vallone find new compelling issues?
The larger the field the further his name will carry him. But the Councilman from Astoria has several options and until he focuses on which to choose, others will be grabbing support that may have been his.
John Liu leads the members of the City Council in dollars raised since the last election. That alone is reason to pay attention to Downtown Flushing’s favorite son. Liu is the embodiment of the new Queens and has been the champion for Asian and minority causes on a broad scale. He is hardworking and driven. He is closely tied to the Queens Dem organization – both a positive and negative.
He loves to work the press but does so to a fault. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish a real-issue from a photo op with his prolific release-generating office.
His nationality is untested borough-wide at the polls. Although as Americanized as one gets, will Liu’s nationality result in voters in some neighborhoods seeking alternative candidates? The natural proclivity to vote for your own – or someone similar – still plays at the voting booth, even in Queens.
He’ll have the bucks and the drive. Can he put it together? Or will he take the sure shot and swap places with protégé Ellen Young and head off to Albany?
Hiram Monserrate is not so very different a candidate from John Liu. While Hiram has fewer friends in power than John, he has a potentially much larger natural constituency. If mobilized, the Latino voting block can and would be formidable in a large field of candidates. Hiram is the spark plug that could do that. He is extremely unloved by the Queens County Democratic organization which will go to great lengths to prevent his candidacy or success. Getting and staying on the ballot will be hard work. His loss to John Sabini in a district with very high Latino enrollment does not bode well for him. Although he has demonstrated some fund-raising ability, he is likely to be out matched by several in the field.
Hiram needs some place to hang his big hat when term limited; he is likely to believe that Borough Hall is in his future.
Audrey Pheffer probably sees it all differently. The position belongs to a woman will be her cry as the long-time Assemblywoman and longer-time District Leader sends out messages that she should be next in line as the grand dames of the Queens Democratic Organization. For 24 years since the downfall of Donald Manes, women — Claire Shulman and Helen Marshall – have held the Borough Presidency. Both of them captured and retained the position with Queens Democratic organizational support.
Pheffer has been a loyal Democrat — so loyal that she followed the Assembly Speaker off the cliff voting to do away with the City commuter tax costing NYC a half a billion bucks a year. Often, that type of loyalty is supported in political circle. Sometimes, it’s rejected by the voters.
Don’t rule her out; but Leroy Comrie would have to crash and burn before Dem County goes with Pheffer. She won’t run without their support, but would not have to give up her Assembly seat to make the run.
Karen Koslowitz, the Deputy Borough President, got her job through loyalty to the Queens Dems, and like Pheffer would only be in the race as the candidate of the organization. Koslowitz’s years as Deputy did not raise her public profile. Yet the longtime Dem District Leader and party loyalist may think it her turn. The scenario seems unlikely at the moment.
Melinda Katz is running for NYC Comptroller and has told this writer she is absolutely not a candidate for Borough President. We’ve seen less firm absolutes especially when she is the most attractive female candidate – and we’re talking credentials. It would be unlikely for the County organization to offer to back her for Beep in order to get her out of the Comptroller’s race. She is a proven fundraiser with relationships with wealthy developers established as Chair of the Council’s land use committee. Everything says she’s running for Comptroller. So, for the moment, we’ll believe her.
Stay tuned; it’s a long and winding road ahead.