There are still nine months until the Democratic primary, but the list of candidates vying to succeed City Councilmember John Sabini in Jackson Heights already reflects the district they would represent–multicultural and overcrowded. Term limits have created a mad dash for council power never seen before in Queens, where the incumbent always wins. Suddenly everybody–from nurses to locker room attendants–thinks they have a legitimate shot at the prize.
Twelve candidates have thrown their hats into the ring for Sabini's seat so far, and a few others are seriously considering it. The resulting overlap of candidate constituencies is so confusing that the next councilmember might not be the aspirant with the broadest appeal, but the one whose voting base is least split up by rivals trying to draw on the same populations. The winner may only need 10 percent of the vote.
Jimmy Van Bramer, for example, might get more support from his second, third and fourth constituencies than from his obvious one, the gay community. Van Bramer, one of the front-runners, has already amassed endorsements from a Latina activist, a labor leader, a diverse smattering of civic leaders and some big-name politicians. However, his home base, the Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club of Queens, will probably not endorse anyone because another club leader, P. Wayne Mahlke, is also contending for the seat.
Mahlke, meanwhile, has a keen interest in improving education and once ran for Community School Board 24. Though he lost, he's a constant presence at their meetings, where he sees declared City Council opponents CSB 24 Secretary Louisa Chan (the nurse) and Frank Castro, president of I.S. 5's parents association and of CSB 24's Presidents Panel. (Castro is the locker floor manager at the ritzy New York Athletic Club.) If he attended meetings of the adjacent school district, he would see CSB 30 member Ellen Raffaele, who is also angling for the seat.
Raffaele, an ex-aide to Sabini, is one of four political insiders in the race, a mini-list that includes a district leader and a staffer each from Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubrey and Assemblywoman Margaret Markey. And Castro, whose toes are being stepped on by almost everyone else in the race, must battle it out with Colombian William Salgado and Peruvian Rodolfo Flores for the ethnic vote in a district that is 40 percent Latino.
The web gets more tangled with each candidate. But those who know Queens politics have no doubt that everything will soon get back to normal.
“Before the summer comes, some of these people will step down and form coalitions with others,” predicts Edwin Westley, who was also running for the seat before he dropped out and endorsed Van Bramer. “Otherwise, it might be possible to win this race with only two.”