Left Conservative Runs Strong in District 19

Council District 19 stretches from the eastern tip of Rikers Island all the way to the border of Great Neck, and is one of the hardest districts to read with any reliability.

Still mostly white, largely suburban in layout and feel, the 19th is one of the few political swing districts in the city, where Republicans can run competitive campaigns and win, and where independent-left Democrats such as Tony Avella maintain tremendous electoral popularity.  As such, the 5-way Democratic primary race for the seat is very much a toss-up, and will likely remain so through the election. 

As we discussed earlier, lobbyist, attorney and Crowley-endorsed Paul Vallone is hoping that his brother’s appearance farther up the ballot in the Queens Beep race will give him coattails, while former Senate Dem flack Austin Shafran is pushing his labor endorsements and leveraging his ties to the old Manes establishment.  John Duane, one-term Assemblyman from the 1980s, is rumored to want a judgeship.  Chrissy Voskerichian is the former chief of staff to incumbent Member Dan Halloran.

We spoke this week to the fifth candidate for the seat, Paul Graziano, a former Green Party organizer who makes a credible case for why he poses a serious challenge to Vallone and Shafran, the two presumed leaders in the race.

Graziano, a lifetime resident of the area, is a preservationist who has fought against over-development in northeast Queens for twenty years.  He argues that his press clippings, which are indeed extensive, are not simply “announcements of candidacy for office like my opponents’, but demonstrate commitment and actual work for the community.”  Graziano worked for Tony Avella as a consultant on rezoning, and credits himself with having protected vast swaths of the district from over-development.

Dismissing the backing of Austin Shafran by labor and of Paul Vallone by County, Graziano stresses the political irrelevance of those forces to northeast Queens.  “The only union that matters in the district is the UFT,” he says, “and even their members are turned off by the leadership.  And nobody around here cares about who Joe Crowley or Grace Meng are backing.”

According to Graziano, the real power brokers in the district are several dozen local civic and homeowner associations.  “When people have a question or problem, they don’t go to the political club or to the local elected: they go to the civic association.” Graziano claims that his decades of work in the community have won him the trust and respect of civic leaders and property owners.

Tony Avella, who rarely endorses anyone for office, has come out for Graziano, and the candidate is confident that Avella’s shiny reputation for clean government and independence will help him as Election Day approaches.  “I don’t say that I will necessarily win,” says Graziano, “but I can promise you that I will be competitive.”

Were Graziano to win, hypothetically, the Democratic primary, the drama would not be over for the 19th District.  Paul Vallone has the Independence Party line, and Austin Shafran won the WFP nod.  Republican Dennis Saffran is a strong candidate, and so the general election could easily become a 4-way battle.

In what has come increasingly to resemble a one-party state, it is nice to know that there are still parts of the city where the electoral season isn’t over in September.


District 19: Paul Vallone, Coming and Going

Following his arrest for charges of bribery, District 19 Council Member Dan Halloran decided not to run for re-election, and opened the field up to a number of well-connected contenders hoping to take his seat.  

Austin Shafran, former mouthpiece for the Senate Dems and the Empire Development Corporation, has leveraged his mother's position in the Teamsters Union to great effect, and has snapped up endorsements from labor and the establishment.  He has even garnered contributions from the executives of the Epoch Times, so at least we know he is solid on Red China.

John Duane, brother of former state Senator Tom Duane, was an assembly one-termer back in 1982, and is seeking his grand return to elected office now.  He caused a minor scandal 30 years ago when his campaign, supposedly without his knowledge, released a forged letter of endorsement from then-Senator Frank Padavan. Devoted corruption-watchers will thrill to know that a young(ish) Carl Kruger organized the dirty tricks on behalf of Duane, who lost his re-election bid in 1984.

Paul Vallone, of the Astoria Vallones, took up technical residency in Flushing in the 1990s, though he continued voting in Astoria until 2004.  He vied for the nomination in 2009 and lost, and has decided to try again.  Paul Vallone has been active in the community in the usual way, serving on the community board, cleaning up graffiti, “singing Christmas Carols at Queens Cerebral Palsy Homes for almost 30 years,” etc., etc.

Professionally, Paul Vallone is listed as the Managing Partner of Vallone & Vallone, a legendary Astoria law firm founded by his grandfather in the 1930s.  The firm, however, no longer seems to exist as an independent entity.  Its website is non-functional.  Furthermore, Paul Vallone and his father Peter, Sr., and the firm of Vallone & Vallone itself, are listed as “of counsel” to Sacco & Fillas, another Queens law firm.

It is rather unusual (possibly unheard of, and possibly unacceptable) for an entire law firm to be of counsel to another law firm, and probably represents a kind of end-run around regulations against fee splitting arrangements.  In other words, the Vallone name carries a lot of weight and generates phone calls, but the firm farms out the legal legwork to Sacco & Fillas, and is officially of counsel to keep things looking ethical. 

Paul Vallone’s bio on the Sacco & Fillas website notes that Vallone & Vallone “can get you through the door from staff to principal,” and indicates the real value of the Vallone name: influence.  Indeed, the actual family business since Peter Vallone the Elder left politics has been lobbying city government on behalf of a variety of clients through the firm Constantinople & Vallone.

Paul Vallone doesn’t say it anywhere in his campaign information, but he is officially registered as a Constantinople & Vallone lobbyist, along with his father and his brother Perry.  A number of Paul Vallone’s major campaign contributors are among his lobbying clients.  For instance, Deborah Gaslow of Boca Raton contributed the maximum $2,750 to the campaign.  Ms. Gaslow is the wife of Peter Gaslow, owner of furniture maker Empire Office, which has paid Constantine & Vallone $40,000 over the last 18 months.       

The owner and senior employees of Mega Contracting have donated more than $3,000 to the campaigns of both Paul and Peter Vallone, Jr., while Mega Contracting has paid Constantinople & Vallone $240,000 in fees since 2010.  Mega Contracting, incidentally, has been awarded contracts for the construction and rehabbing of a number of municipal projects, including NYCHA houses, MTA station upgrades, and work on schools, police precincts and city hospitals.

So Paul Vallone has represented these folks as a lobbyist, and hopes to continue to represent his former clients when he takes office.  Seems like putting the cart before the horse, doesn’t it? The usual trajectory of a political career is first to be a public servant and eat bread from the sweat of one’s brow, and then after a time to leave office and cash in as a lobbyist.  Paul Vallone is reversing the typical course of a political career, starting out as a lobbyist, and then seeking elected office!  It looks as though the revolving door revolves both ways.