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Queens rejects bid by Tea Party to gain toehold in boro

The 2010 midterm elections drew residents from every corner of Queens to vote in races that ousted its last remaining Republican in Albany and changed the face of politics in a borough where Republicans and Tea Party members made little headway despite a national groundswell of support for more conservative politicians.

From Whitestone to Jamaica, Queens residents came out to cast their ballots for what is now an all-Democratic delegation representing the borough, removing state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) after his nearly four decades in Albany and ushering in Democrat Tony Avella. The only Republicans left to represent Queens are at the city level: Councilmen Dan Halloran (R-Bayside), Peter Koo (R-Flushing) and Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park).

Some Democrats in Queens, including U.S. Reps. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) and Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside), had more of a contest from the conservative movement that helped Republicans win at least 60 seats to capture the U.S. House. Both fended off challenges from Tea Party-supported candidates who carved out more of the vote than Weiner and Ackerman usually cede to opponents.

“The Paladino effect was very negative on southern portions of New York state,” Queens GOP spokesman Robert Hornak said of Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, who was criticized for what many called extremist policies and statements. “It really hurt candidates down the ballot.”

Hornak said just 14 percent of those who voted in the city cast their ballots for Paladino, who received 34.13 percent of the vote statewide, compared to Democrat Andrew Cuomo’s 61.43 percent across the state, according to state Board of Elections results.

Queens College political science professor Michael Krasner said the Tea Party made little attempt to win over voters in the city because it is so heavily Democratic. Still, conservative activists did gain some ground in Staten Island, where GOP-backed Michael Grimm defeated Democratic U.S. Rep. Michael McMahon, and portions of Queens, particularly along the border of the often more conservative Long Island, which Ackerman represents, and such areas as Rockaway Beach, represented by Weiner and home to his Republican rival.

Weiner landed 58.51 percent of the vote compared to Republican Bob Turner’s 41.49 percent. The congressman in 2008 drew more than 90 percent of the vote. Ackerman received a higher percentage of the vote than Weiner with 62.43 percent, compared to GOP candidate James Milano’s 36.92 percent.

“The Democratic registration is so big in both Weiner’s and Ackerman’s districts that it would’ve taken not just a stronger Republican registration but some kind of scandal engulfing the Democratic candidate for them to have lost,” said Krasner, who studies local politics. “Both of those congressmen are energetic and active in their districts, and their staff does effective constituency work.”

Krasner agreed with Hornak that Paladino likely cost Republican votes in Queens. Hornak said he believed there was a light turnout of Republicans in Queens, particularly in Padavan’s 11th Senate District, though the city Board of Elections said it will not have those statistics for some time. Poll workers throughout the borough, including Forest Hills, Jamaica, Whitestone and Middle Village reported seeing a large number of voters for a midterm election, and The New York Times reported about 46 percent of the city’s registered voters came to the polls — an increase over the 36 percent of registered voters who participated in the 2006 midterm election.

“It’s a measure of the incompetence and near lunacy of Paladino’s campaign that he lost by as much as he did,” Krasner said.

Many groups’ exit polls that separated out Queens voters from the rest of the city had yet to be publicized, but the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund said their exit polls found Korean Americans overwhelmingly favored Avella over Padavan. Just 11 percent of the Korean Americans polled supported Padavan, according to the AALDEF, which organization officials said in part was because of Padavan’s “anti-immigrant positions.”

Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) and Make the Road New York Executive Director Ana Maria Archila said the Republican gains in the U.S. House made them doubtful that comprehensive immigration reform would occur over the next two years, a sentiment Weiner also has expressed.

“I’m very concerned,” Ferreras said. “Immigration was looking like it would be the next big conversation after health care, and now it’s not even heard of. We may miss out on a great opportunity.”

Archila also said she was worried about the balance of power in the state Senate, which currently hangs in limbo. The Senate is now controlled by the Democrats, though three seats are currently in question and residents may not know for months whether there will be a Democratic or Republican majority.

“In New York state, it was very, very important to see an attorney general who has a record of fighting for immigrants win,” Archila said of Attorney General-elect Eric Schneiderman. “That’s remarkable in this environment.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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