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Sabini takes racing board position

State Sen. John Sabini (D-Jackson Heights) has accepted a senior advisory position on the state Racing Board, Gov. David Paterson announced Friday, effectively ending his bid for re-election against City Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst).

Sabini has been the ranking Democrat on the state Senate's Wagering Committee since Paterson, then the Senate minority leader, appointed him in 2003. He participated last fall on a board that reviewed the entire racing and thoroughbred industry, Paterson said.

"For far too long, racing in New York has been a shrinking pie, and yet everyone wants the same size slice," Sabini said at a news conference in Manhattan Friday. "We need to make racing in New York a growth industry."

The appointment was part of a deal for the state to take over off-track betting from the city at the onset of what Paterson called a looming financial crisis.

Accepting a post in the executive branch of state government will require Sabini to step down from the legislative branch, a spokeswoman for the governor said. No date has been set for the transition, however. Paterson's appointment still must be confirmed by the state Senate, which will take some time, a spokeswoman for the governor said.

Evan Stavisky, a political consultant for many city Democrats, said the move would be good for Paterson and Sabini.

"Sabini is extraordinarily well-respected for his deep understanding of state and local government," he said. "He's developed a unique area of expertise in the [racing] field."

He did not deny it would spare Queens Democrats what looked to be an expensive and rancorous primary race for the 13th Senate District seat, which covers Corona, East Elmhurst, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights and part of Woodside.

"There's an old adage: 'The best politics is good government,' " Stavisky said. "This is both good politics and good government.

Sabini's decision came two days after Monserrate earned the endorsement of the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council AFL-CIO, a 30,000-member union. In previous contests, many local unions supported Sabini.

The senator won re-election twice against Monserrate, who backed a competitor against Sabini in 2004 and then entered the Democratic primary himself in 2006. Sabini won the latter race by 200 votes.

The senator's prospects for re-election in 2008 were hurt in September when Albany police arrested him on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. Sabini pleaded to driving while awareness impaired, a traffic offense.

Monserrate said he looked forward to November's general election.

"I wish John Sabini the best of luck in his new position as chairman of the New York State Racing and Wagering Board," he said in a prepared statement.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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