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.