With less than two months until the Democratic primary, coupled with the somewhat sudden exit of Councilman Leroy Comrie, the race for Queens borough president is heating up in a variety of ways.
Comrie (D-St. Albans), who dropped out of the race within the past week, issued a brief statement saying he was leaving due to “personal matters.”
Corey Bearak, a spokesman for Comrie, said they were standing behind the statement and would not elaborate on specifics regarding the pullout.
Bearak also declined to say whether or not Comrie would make a public endorsement of any of the remaining candidates.
The exit of Comrie has led many political insiders to speculate that it was weak fundraising that may have influenced the popular councilman’s decision to abort his bid. Comrie’s most recent filing showed he had raised a total of $167,981.
While Comrie wasn’t last in fundraising, he was well behind the race’s two frontrunners: Melinda Katz, a former member of the Assembly and City Council, and Councilman Peter Vallone, Jr. (D-Astoria).
Katz’s campaign recently announced that she has gathered more than 27,000 petition signatures to get on the ballot, along with healthy fundraising numbers that total more than $1.2 million after about $600,000 in expected matching funds from the city’s Campaign Finance Board.
Vallone, Jr., in a recent phone interview, said he’s already raised “more than $1 million so far,” adding that “no one will outspend us in this race.”
He also reported collecting more than 12,000 signatures.
“We’ve done so well petitioning,” he said. “Our support was been overwhelming.”
By contrast, Democratic candidate and state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) has raised about $70,773, according to the July 15th filing deadline. And, a spokesperson for his campaign reported collecting about 6,000 petition signatures to put him on the ballot.
Further, to the possible dismay of some of the other candidates, Avella’s campaign does not plan to pull out anytime soon.
Avella, who has garnered a reputation for speaking his mind and championing middle class ideals, recently accused Vallone’s campaign of using unsavory tactics to try and get him out of the race.
Avella told Politicker a few days ago that Vallone staffers have repeatedly threatened to challenge his petition signatures and have him kicked off the ballot if he doesn’t leave on his own.
In addition, Avella told Politicker that Vallone was a “bully and a coward,” and was afraid to have him on the ballot.
Vallone said that his campaign “had not made any decisions” on whether or not to challenge any of his competitors’ petition signatures.
“We’ve been very busy,” he said.
Political insiders have also speculated that while Avella may not stand much of a chance in the borough president’s race, his presence may serve to siphon votes from Vallone, thereby bolstering Katz, who is arguably already ahead of Vallone in the race to collect endorsements and key party backing.
Among Katz’s numerous supporters are current Borough President Helen Marshall, U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-Queens,Brooklyn, Manhattan), state Sen. José Peralta (D-Jackson Heights), state Sen. James Sanders (D-Laurelton), Assemblywoman Vivian Cook (D-Jamaica) and Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubrey (D-Corona).
Nathan Smith, a spokesperson for Katz, pointed out that both Sanders and Aubrey hail from the political base of Comrie.
Smith also noted, while talking up Katz’s record on core issues such as healthcare, affordable housing, and middle class job creation, that other recent key endorsements include U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Queens), newly elected Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) and others.
“An endorsement a day over the next week or two,” said Smith, referring to elected officials lining up behind Katz. “The cold, hard reality is Melinda has secured 99 percent of labor unions in this race.”
Smith called Katz’s coalition “large and growing.”
Asked about the Vallone campaign, Smith said “he’s having a hard time attracting institutional or elected support.” He said Katz is beating Vallone at this point by about a 50 to 1 margin regarding endorsements.
With regard to endorsements, Vallone admitted, “we won’t get every endorsement but that’s fine. We have a plan for that.”
A former prosecutor, Vallone said he already has the support from various law enforcement groups including corrections officers, detectives, sergeants, lieutenants and captains.
Vallone lists keeping Queens’ residents safe as one of his top priorities, along with Superstorm Sandy recovery and business growth in the borough.
“We’re very happy, overall, with the support we’re getting,” he said.
By Alan Krawitz