Today’s news:

Petition challenges heat up race for Ackerman’s seat

The contest to decide the Republican U.S. House of Representatives candidate for the 5th Congressional District in northeast Queens and northwest Nassau County this year is taking a new turn with multiple petition challenges and two primary elections.

Great Neck, L.I., attorney Elizabeth Berney is the official Republican candidate, having been endorsed by both the Queens and Nassau Republican parties. She is facing a Republican primary, however, from Gonzalo "Jun" Policarpio. The primary winner will face U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside) in the fall election.

Before we get to the primary, there are several petition challenges on both sides that need to be resolved. Berney has filed general objections against Policarpio's Republican petitions. Also, Policarpio has the Conservative Party endorsement and Berney has filed general objections and specifications against his Conservative petitions. She also filed general objections against Ackerman's Democratic, Independence and Working Families party petitions. She followed up with specifications against Ackerman's Independence and Working Families petitions.

Berney has also filed opportunity to ballot Conservative petitions as a way of challenging Policarpio to a Conservative Party primary. Since he is presently the Queens and Nassau Conservative parties' official nominee, if these petitions are upheld by the state Elections Board, Berney will run in a congressional district-wide Conservative Party primary as a write-in candidate, in which Policarpio's name will appear on the ballot but Berney's will not. Voters will have to write in her name on the voting machine ballot. It is a difficult procedure at best, although it can succeed.

In northeastern Queens, the last Conservative Party write-in primary was in 1978, when then-Republican candidate Genevieve Klein challenged incumbent Vincent Nicolosi to a Conservative primary. At that time, Nicolosi had the Conservative Party endorsement and Klein ran as a write-in candidate, but lost the election by a narrow margin.

In recent times, we have never had this many petition challenges in one race in northeast Queens. There may be six or more petition challenges before this is over. How far these petition challenges go will be decided by the elections board. It remains to be seen if any of these cases are taken to court by either side.

This contest promises to be hard-fought, since both Republican primary candidates are running vigorous campaigns and each is determined to prevail. Fund-raising will play a major role in this contest.

Ackerman has been in office since 1993. He has not had any strong challenges since 1996, but this year seems to be different. As stated previously, a lot depends on how the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates do in the general election. The presidential race will affect Queens races, especially since there are no gubernatorial or U.S. Senate candidates on the ballot this year.

Whoever is elected president will need strong congressional support to pass legislative initiatives. That is why congressional districts like this one are important in deciding congressional support for the new president in 2009.

Presently, state Assemblyman Ivan Lafayette (D-Jackson Heights), of Queens' 34th State Assembly District, has announced he is leaving the state Assembly after serving in it for 32 years. District Leader Michael Den Dekker has been named as Lafayette's successor on the ballot.

It is unfortunate that he has chosen to follow the path of late Congressman Thomas Manton by filing his petitions, then stating he was not running and having his committee on vacancies choose his successor. It would have been far more appropriate if Lafayette had announced before the petition drive started that he was not running for re-election and then let his district's voters decide through the primary election process who would succeed him.

Certainly the people should have some say in choosing Lafayette's successor this year. I hope the practice of party leaders choosing candidates with the people having no voice in candidate selection will not become the way to choose public officials in other Queens districts.

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