Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Special Elections Today in New York City

Today WAYLA reports on local politics from New York City.

Today there are three City Council districts up for grabs due to vacancies following the General Election back in November. They are District 21 (North Queens), District 32 (South Queens), and District 49 (North Shore of Staten Island). Each are hotly contested races.

District 21

After the sitting council member, Hiram Monserrate, won his State Senate race in November, the field opened up for four Democrats coming from very different backgrounds and holding some very different ideas.

Among the candidates are George Dixon, a district leader of the Democratic Party and former community board member; Jose Giraldo, a businessman and community leader who immigrated to the U.S. when he was 19; Julissa Ferreras, the chief-of-staff to Monserrate; and Francisco Moya, a business director, public affairs director, and former aid in the State Legislature.

A big issue in this race is “who is best qualified?” and every candidate - except for Moya - has addressed the issue by claiming the most experience. They also disagree on another big issue in North Queens - overdevelopment.

Though she was seen as the leading candidate and has racked up the most endorsements, Ferreras has recently been criticized for mismanaging funds at Libre, a non-profit which she chaired. Despite Monserrate being the first Latino to hold the seat, three of the four contenders are Latinos this time around and some feel the Party might be trying to hold it as a Latino seat.

District 32

Five candidates are vying to replace Joseph Addabbo, who won a State Senate race in November. They include Geraldine Chapey, a professor at City University of New York, a Democratic district leader, and a non-profit director; Glenn DiResto, a recently retired NYPD lieutenant; Michael Ricatto, a businessman; Lew Simon, an activist, former candidate, and Democratic district leader; and Eric Ulrich, a Catholic Church fundraiser, former teacher and campaign worker, and a Republican district leader.

The personalities and stories behind each of the candidates is more telling of the race than the positions they take.

DiResto, for example, has touted a party line of “families first” and, as a result, was disqualified from the ballot because too close to the Working Families Party (a New York union party) and special elections are technically non-partisan.

Ulrich is only 23 and would be the youngest member to serve on the council. This charismatic young Republican is moderate and gives the New York Republican Party a good deal of optimism.

And then there is Ricatto, the President of his family’s business empire and a newcomer on the political scene. The driver of his campaign van - who had a suspended license as it was - hit and killed a nine-year-old boy last month. In addition to that challenge, he did not even live in the district until very recently - moving in specifically for the race. At a recent debate the crowd even shouted “carpetbagger” at him.

District 49

The number of candidates competing to represent this northern Staten Island seat has dwindled from nine to five in recent weeks. They are vying to replace Michael McMahon who won his Congressional race back in November.

The remaining five candidates are Tony Baker, a veteran, former schoolteacher, and reverend; Kenneth Mitchell, McMahon’s chief-of-staff while on the Council; Donald Pagano, an electrical contractor; Deborah Rose, a community advocate and secretary of Community Board No. 1; and Paul Saryian, a retired NYPD captain.

With the exception of Saryian, an independent, the candidates are all registered Democrats, where the Party has held this seat on the mostly-Republican island for more than 25 years. This district is also home to a great wave of immigrants and - compared to the rest of Staten Island - is quite diverse. Rose and Baker are both trying to become the first African-American to win the seat and Saryian is of Hispanic and Armenian descent.

The big issue in this race has been traffic congestion. Each candidate has addressed this issue in their own way to seem independent of the others. Rose, Mitchell and Saryian have proposed different light rail ideas. Rose and Pagano have also suggested increasing traffic on the Hudson ferry. Each candidate hopes that some of the federal stimulus money can cover these expenses.

What can we gather from these different races?

New York City is so big and diverse that it should be no surprise that these races seem so very distant from one another. In fact, with a population of over 8 million, the Big Apple is about the size of the average state - complete with its own array of issues and political values according to the different communities.

Come back tomorrow to see who won!

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