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Queens voters are being asked to head to the polls five times in less than two years to select a borough president to replace — and succeed — Melinda Katz.
The race’s six current candidates are gearing up for a March special election to temporarily fill the seat. Then the results of the June primary and November general election will combine to determine who serves the final year remaining in Katz’ term, which ends Dec. 31, 2021.
That will be followed by next year’s primary and general election for a full four years in office, beginning Jan. 1, 2022. Katz recently stepped down after winning election as the borough’s district attorney.
It’s unclear how many voters will complete the electoral marathon, which is likely to cost taxpayers millions — a tab that will be driven up by the relatively new early voting system.
Meanwhile, candidates face having to collect two rounds of petitions to get on ballots, the first of which is for the March 24 special election set by Mayor Bill de Blasio. And Democrats will be going back to polls in April to vote in the presidential primary to eventually challenge another Queens native.
Election attorney Sarah Steiner noted the unusual electoral gauntlet is likely to baffle many voters and dampen a borough president race turnout already forecasted to be low.
“So everybody is doing everything at the same time, voters are bound to be very confused by fact they’re being asked to vote on March 24 and possibly also sign a petition for something that’s going to be happening again in June,” Steiner added.
An ‘Unprecedented’ Race
The candidates include current Councilmembers Costa Constantinides, Jimmy Van Bramer and Donovan Richards, who notched the borough Democratic Party’s endorsement this week.
Former Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley, as well as former NYPD sergeant Anthony Miranda and former Queens Assistant District Attorney James Quinn are also running.
Scott Levenson, Richards’ campaign manager, called the multi-pronged election cycle “unprecedented.”
“It’s hard to deny that running five elections in a year and a half doesn’t strain any organization,” he said. “And when you combine it with the challenges of campaign finance law and petitioning law and the institution of early voting these are real challenges for any organization.”
A confluence of factors newly in effect are making for an unusually challenging race.
With the city’s recent charter revisions, special elections have moved from 45 days to 80 days following a vacancy, clustering it closer to the primary election.
The borough president contest also will mark the first special election with early voting in place — voters will have nine days before the special and the primary elections to cast ballots.
Campaigns, meanwhile, will be required to keep finances separate for special elections and primaries.
‘Abysmal’ Turnout Predicted
Reached by THE CITY last week, the candidates — all just starting to collect the necessary 2,000 names required to get on the special election ballot — said they were not daunted by the arduous timeline.
“I’d run 10 or even 100 times if it meant transforming Queens for a stronger future,” Constantinides said, adding that he’d “happily jump through whatever hoops necessary.”
Crowley said there’s no time for her to waste in becoming the borough’s chief executive.
“The quicker I get in there, the more time I’ll have to address the needs that are facing Queens right now,” she said.
Miranda conceded that “trying to activate” a base within the short time frame was a challenge, but said he was up to the challenge.
The campaigns have until midnight on Jan. 14 to file signatures with the city Board of Elections to appear on the ballot for the nonpartisan special election.
From Feb. 25 to April 2, they will then have to collect 4,000 signatures to make it onto the June 23 primary ballot.
This means that candidates will both be canvassing and obtaining signatures from registered voters twice before the special election.
Political strategist George Arzt estimated predicted turnout will be “abysmal, obviously” for both the special and the primary elections.
In the citywide February 2019 public advocate special election — a race estimated to cost taxpayers $23 million, according to the Board of Elections — voter turnout was roughly 9%. Last year’s hotly contested Democratic primary for Queens district attorney drew only 11% of registered voters.
The city Board of Elections did not respond to a request for comment on what was ultimately spent or how much the borough president contests are expected to cost.
Arzt noted that whoever is in place as the borough president after March 24 will wield a considerable advantage in future elections.
“[I] think Donovan is the guy to beat,” said Arzt. “This is a small election, you have to get your voters to the poll and Donovan has to get Southeast Queens to the polls.”
Candidates who are especially able to “grow their support by making inroads in central Queens and Western Queens” are more likely to be successful, noted strategist Evan Stavisky.
All the candidates said they’re hitting the pavement hard to get the vote out. Van Bramer said the special election was crucial.
“Voters have the opportunity to singularly focus on the most important office in Queens — without the noise of other elections up and down the ballot — and pick the candidate who can best organize our communities to protect and advance Queens values,” he said.
Quinn, whose candidacy was revealed by the Queens Courier on Friday, told THE CITY he was “very, very serious” about the race and was prepared to run five times to be the next borough president.
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