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Storm recovery first for pols in tight race

Tables set up with stacks of canned goods, water and other food items line the sidewalk outside of state Sen. Joseph Addabbo's district office in Howard Beach. Photo by Karen Frantz
TimesLedger Newspapers

State Senate candidates locked in a tight and nationally scrutinized election in southern Queens put their campaigns aside in the days leading up to Election Day and devoted their full efforts to recovery from Hurricane Sandy instead.

City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), who was challenging Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) for his seat, said he had spent zero time on his campaign since the day before the storm hit at a polling site Tuesday.

“Two-thirds of my district was absolutely devastated by the storm in one way or another and I have an obligation to my constituents to make sure they are okay, they are safe, that they have everything they need,” he said. “We’ll worry about the politics later.”

A staff member for Addabbo also said the election was the furthest thing from the politician’s mind at the district office Monday.

“‘This is not about an election,’” the staff member recalled Addabbo saying.

The storm came days before voters would decide which candidate would take the 15th State Senate District, which covers Howard Beach, Ozone Park, Woodhaven, Glendale, Middle Village, Maspeth and parts of South Ozone Park, Ridgewood, Rego Park and Sunnyside. The race is one of the tightest and most expensive in the state, with state Republicans’ slim majority in the Senate at stake.

Instead of politicking, both politicians were in their districts checking up on their constituents, and their offices had become de facto centers for people to donate clothing, food and other supplies.

Addabbo’s office, which was flooded in the storm, was set up as a central aid station in the ravaged Howard Beach neighborhood. Bags of clothing and blankets were overflowing in the office and on the street canned food and water were stacked high on tables set up on the sidewalk and volunteers were outside grilling burgers for weary residents.

Addabbo’s office was working with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. Andrew Cuomo on recovery efforts, the staff member said, and was searching for a place to store the donated items piled outside before a nor’easter was expected to hit the region Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a representative for Ulrich, Rudy S. Giuliani, said Monday the councilman’s office was one of the few in the region not damaged or without power after the storm and the staff had been working around the clock to organize recovery efforts and respond to community questions.

Giuliani said the office was so inundated with calls that Councilwomen Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) sent over staffers to help man phones.

He said for several days the staff’s top priority was figuring out where to relocate schools because many in the region were damaged in the storm, but efforts had shifted Monday to restoring electricity as temperatures were dropping.

“The biggest thing is getting the power back,” he said.

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at kfrantz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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