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Padavan wins seat after battle

Although state Sen. Frank Padavan (R−Bellerose) officially became the victor in the protracted 11th Senate District race last week, he and his opponent, City Councilman James Gennaro (D−Fresh Meadows), have continued to trade insults over the contest that was decided more than three months after Election Day.

The race is now the second longest legislative contest in state history, just behind the battle between state Sen. Andrea Stewart−Cousins (D−Yonkers) and former Sen. Nick Spanos, which was decided after two recounts on Feb. 8, 2005.

Padavan, a 36−year veteran of the Senate who won by 480 votes, accused Gennaro and his campaign advisers from the Parkside Group of engaging in a “shameful smear campaign intended to mislead residents of the 11th Senate District,” while Gennaro contended the Republican senator and his lawyers attempted to avoid counting ballots from minority groups.

“For the last three months, Frank Padavan and his Republican Party lawyers have used every resource at their disposal to wage a systematic and sustained effort to either disqualify or deny consideration of perfectly valid ballots,” Gennaro said in a statement.

Democrats and Republicans had fought for months over the vote count since November, when Padavan led Gennaro by more than 700 votes. Democrats accused Republicans of not wanting to count about 2,800 votes originally discredited by the Queens Elections Board because the ballots were from minority, disabled and younger voters, who often vote Democratic.

Republicans contended the Gennaro campaign prolonged the inevitable Padavan victory by insisting on counting the 2,800 ballots the Republicans maintained had already been invalidated by the Elections Board.

In mid−January, the city Elections Board reversed its original decision and ruled the remaining ballots could be counted.

Queens Supreme Court Judge Kevin Kerrigan reviewed the vote recount results last Thursday and the Elections Board was expected to certify the election this week.

Gennaro officially conceded defeat to Padavan last Thursday evening. The councilman declined to comment Friday as to whether or not he plans to run against Padavan in 2010.

“Councilman Gennaro, party bosses and the political operatives at the Parkside Group prolonged this process with endless delays and senseless legal wrangling in order to advance their own political agenda,” Padavan said in a statement. “Had it not been for the unmitigated greed and self−serving motives of Councilman Gennaro and the Parkside Group, this election would have been resolved back in November and the residents of the 11th Senate District would not have been denied a voice in the state Senate at a critical time for our community and state.”

Parkside associate Mike Barfield scoffed at Padavan’s shots at his organization.

“Frank Padavan’s 480 vote margin out of 95,000 cast doesn’t entitle him to his own set of facts,” Barfield said in a statement. “…Frank Padavan’s use of personal insults and attacks are merely an attempt to divert attention from his tireless efforts to throw valid votes into the trash.”

In earlier elections, Padavan held off Democratic challenges from Morshad Alam, who ran against him without the borough party’s blessings, and Rory Lancman, who was just elected to his second term in the state Assembly from Fresh Meadows.

Padavan’s swearing−in ceremony was scheduled for Sunday afternoon, and he said he is now focusing on how to deal with the state’s fiscal crisis.

“We are up to speed in terms of what’s going on, and there are some very serious economic problems,” Padavan said in an interview last Thursday. “We’ll have to deal with them in a very positive and constructive way.”

Spokesmen for the Senate Democratic majority leader and Senate Republican minority leader said they look forward to working with Padavan in Albany.

“We’re obviously pleased the recounting is over, and Sen. Padavan will be taking his seat in the state Senate and, most importantly, that the residents of Queens will have representation in the state Senate,” said Scott Reif, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos (R−Rockville Centre).

Austin Shafran, a spokesman for Senate Democratic Majority Leader Malcolm Smith (D−St. Albans), reiterated Reif’s sentiments.

“We welcome him back and look forward to working with Sen. Padavan, as well as the rest of his Republican colleagues, on the budget and the rest of the legislative agenda,” Shafran said.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e−mail at agustafson@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 174.

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