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Sanders scores major victory over Huntley in Senate race

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Councilman James Sanders Jr. (second r.) celebrates his victory with (l.-r.) Peter Pouchon, Larry Love, Donovan Richards and Sender Schwartz.
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Councilman James Sanders Jr. campaigns outside PS 80 in Rochdale Village. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Councilman James Sanders Jr. is surrounded by supporters as he celebrates his victory. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Councilman James Sanders Jr. kisses his son Malik's head as his wife Andrea looks on. Photo by Christina Santucci

In a hotly contested race in southeast Queens, City Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton) defeated state Sen. Shirley Huntley in the Democratic Party primary Thursday. She was seeking her fourth term when she was indicted on criminal charges last month.

The race was a three-way contest with Sanders, who will be term-limited out of office next year, Huntley and Rockaway resident Gian Jones.

With 83 percent of the vote counted, Sanders had 56 percent to 41 percent for Huntley, according to CBS News.

In his victory speech, Sanders vowed to help clean up Albany when he takes his seat in the Senate. He will not face a Republican opponent in the general election.

“The situation in Albany needs to be resolved,” he said. “I’m part of the clean-hands team.”

He said he would address ethics scandals such as those that plagued his opponent.

The race took an unexpected turn in late August when state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman indicted Huntley on obstruction charges, prompting both of her challengers to call on the senator to step down from office and withdraw from the race.

Huntley had been distancing herself from a scandal centered on the Parent Workshop — a non-profit she founded — since December 2011, when Attorney General Eric Schneiderman indicted Patricia Savage, one of the senator’s aides and the non-profit’s president, and Lynn Smith, Huntley’s niece and the Parent Workshop’s treasurer, on charges they had submitted false documents in order to receive about $30,000 in state legislative member items funneled through Huntley that were supposed to be used to help parents in the community but could not be accounted for.

In the meantime, the state’s redistricting process put parts of Sanders’ council district — including Rosedale and Far Rockaway — into the 10th Senate district. Sanders — who will term-limited out of his office next year — announced his candidacy for the Senate seat, as did Jones.

Sanders seemed to be gaining political ground in the Richmond Hill area where he courted the South Asian vote. He ran on his record in the City Council, highlighting his contributions to schools and economic development as well as his strong anti-gun stance.

Jones, who serves on the board of directors of the Rockaway Development and Revitalization Corporation, ran on the issues of education and economic development.

Then in late August with less than three full weeks until the primary, Schneiderman charged Huntley with covering up for the parent workshop. According to the indictment, Huntley allegedly submitted a false letter making it seem as if the money had been spent for workshops.

Huntley’s troubles seemed to weigh with voters.

Ejindu Mang, 52, said he only knew a little about Sanders, yet voted for him anyway. Mang, a gay-rights supporter, said he did not agree with Huntley’s opposition to a same-sex marriage bill in 2009, even though she eventually voted in favor for the bill in 2011.

The biggest issue for Mang, however, was the allegation haunting Huntley.

“I voted [for Sanders] because of the scandal with Huntley,” he said. “I didn’t like that.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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