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Addabbo focuses on relief

State Sen. Joseph Addabbo speaks to poll workers at JHS 202 in Ozone Park as he prepares to cast his ballot. Photo by Ken Maldonado
TimesLedger Newspapers

With a nationally scrutinized, hard-fought and money-fueled race for a state Senate seat now over and the recovery effort underway after Hurricane Sandy devastated southern Queens, newly re-elected Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) is looking forward.

“My focus is my district and the needs of the people directly impacted by Hurricane Sandy,” he said.

The senator said he is throwing his efforts into helping to bring electricity back to residents still without power and getting constituents the supplies they need before focusing on business up in Albany.

But state legislative issues are still looming. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has projected a $1 billion budget deficit that will likely grow because of the superstorm.

And although Sandy has added a few more legislative items to the agenda, Addabbo said he is considering drafting legislation that strengthens penalties against people who loot or commit crimes during blackouts, for example.

But the issues that dominated the campaign before the storm are still relevant.

Addabbo said he is still focused on gun control, prohibiting hydraulic fracturing and raising the minimum wage.

“There are some big issues we must deal with up in Albany,” he said.

The race for the 15th Senate District was considered one of the tightest in the state. It pitted the incumbent two-term senator against a rising-star in the state Republican Party, City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park).

State Republicans, fearing a loss of their slim majority in the Senate, poured money into Ulrich’s coffers hoping to gain that seat in their favor. The struggle for control of the party was still being fought this week because two races remain uncalled.

Campaign finance records show the state Republican Campaign Committee donated about $820,000 to Ulrich’s campaign, making up the bulk of his contributions.

In total, Ulrich raised about $1.7 million and spent about $930,000 between Jan. 1 and Election Day, according to campaign finance records.

Both figures are considerably larger than what Addabbo took in and spent during the same period. Records show the senator raised $350,000 and spent $260,000.

Addabbo said his victory over Ulrich sent a message that elections are not about money. He said it is a positive message brought door-to-door that matters most.

“It’s that kind of campaign I wanted to run to prove a point,” he said.

Addabbo said he was outspent in all of his last three elections and this time he won by a larger margin than before.

Unofficial results from the Board of Election showed 57 percent of the vote went for Addabbo and 43 percent for Ulrich, a margin of more than 10,000 votes.

“I always thought my constituents could care less about the money,” Addabbo said.

But there is some question about whether that margin would have been as large as it was for Sandy.

Some neighborhoods in southern Queens that tend to be more conservative, such as Belle Harbor and Breezy Point in the Rockaways, added to the 15th District in the latest redistricting were particularly hard-hit by the hurricane.

An analysis by The New York Times found that in the presidential election GOP candidate Mitt Romney had a stronghold in Belle Harbor, Breezy Point, Broad Channel, Howard Beach and Far Rockaway. In Howard Beach, Mitt Romney won the eight precincts 1,437 to 870, The Times said. The rest of the 15th District tended to vote overwhelmingly for President Barack Obama, with the exception of Middle Village, which was mixed, according to the analysis.

Because of severe damage to city infrastructure in the Rockaways and Howard Beach, the city Board of Elections moved many voting sites to new locations — sometimes quite a long distance from their original sites, Jessica Proud, Ulrich’s campaign spokeswoman, said.

“One of the problems we saw prior to the election was that the polling places were placed too far away for people to have easy access to get to them in some of those hard-hit areas,” she said.

On Election Day, Ulrich blasted the Board of Elections for waiting too long to inform displaced residents about where they would be voting.

“In some cases, people had to walk 30 or 40 blocks to their newest poll sites, some people weren’t informed of their sites and some didn’t find out until 6 p.m. last night [Monday],” Ulrich said.

Addabbo said he thought BOE did the best it could given its budgetary limitations. He also said an order by Gov. Andrew Cuomo allowing affidavit ballots outside designated polling places made it a little easier for people to vote, although a person would not be able to vote in the Senate race if they polled at a site outside their district.

But Addabbo said people’s abilities to vote were nevertheless hampered because of the storm.

“The weather is one thing that is beyond your control,” he said.

Proud said it was too soon to make any judgment on whether the vote margin between the candidates would have been smaller were it not for the storm because the Board of Elections is still counting absentee and affidavit votes. But she did say the areas heavily affected by the storm saw fewer people voting.

“It was definitely a lower turnout than we would have expected,” she said.

She said Ulrich is not dwelling on the results, but is looking to the future and helping his district recover from the storm.

“It’s really a time to govern now,” she said.

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

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