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Council hopefuls react to scandal

The arrest of Councilman Dan Halloran (clockwise from top r.) has his potential Democratic challengers -- Austin Shafran, former candidate Matthew Silverstein, Paul Vallone, John Duane and Paul Graziano -- wondering whether or not he will seek re-election come November.
TimesLedger Newspapers

Scandal surrounding City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) had the borough buzzing this week as his Democratic challengers looked ahead to November.

Halloran, who was charged with being part of a bribery scheme to rig the city’s mayoral race, has been readying his re-election campaign as the opposition duked it out to determine who would challenge him.

His Tuesday morning arrest sent shock waves through his 19th Council District in northeast Queens and has left its big players wondering how the area will be represented by year’s end.

Halloran was arrested along with state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) in what federal prosecutors described as a grand plot to bribe the senator’s way onto the mayoral ballot as a Republican. Both lawmakers face up to 45 years in prison if convicted.

Halloran spokesman Kevin Ryan said the councilman denied the allegations and was confident he would be vindicated, but would not say whether he planned on remaining in the race.

Democratic challengers Paul Graziano, Austin Shafran, Paul Vallone and recently dropped-out candidate Matthew Silverstein weighed in on how Halloran’s arrest might affect the district moving forward. John Duane, a former state assemblyman, has been raising money in the race but did not comment on his potential opponent’s charges.

According to a Queens Democratic source, the party believes this may spur other potential Democratic candidates to re-examine the race and possibly run since the corruption case has weakened Halloran as an incumbent.

Vallone was the only current contender in the mix for the Democratic primary to challenge Halloran in 2009. He received the third-most votes, behind Community Board 11 Chairman Jerry Iannece and Kevin Kim, who won the spot but lost in the general election.

Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) used to represent the 19th District as a member of the Council before Halloran was elected and said he obviously did not support his successor for office. He also said he was not surprised to learn of the bribery accusations against Smith, Halloran, Queens GOP Vice Chairman Vince Tabone and three others.

“The system lends itself to corruption. Even if you’re not doing actual bribes, it’s the fact that member items are being used to promote candidacy, which is not how they should be distributed,” Avella said. “I try and do the best I can, but I can’t control what goes on beyond me.”

Graziano, a Flushing activist and urban planning consultant, has had his public spats with Halloran through the years over issues such as community preservation and landmarking. The Democratic challenger said he would reserve his judgments on the councilman’s charges until his case is resolved, but insisted Halloran’s name was certainly wounded.

When asked if he thought the scandal would virtually hand the Council seat to whichever Democratic candidate wins the primary in September, Graziano said he thought there was a very good chance.

Shafran, a Bayside native who most recently served in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration, weighed in on the big news, calling the charges serious and disturbing.

“Public service is a privilege and violations of the public’s trust cannot be tolerated,” Shafran said. “Anyone involved in this scandal should immediately come clean because the people deserve to know the truth so justice can be done.”

Vallone, an attorney also seeking the Democratic nomination, said he hoped to see the entire story come into public view for all to hear.

“The corruption charges against Dan Halloran are very troubling,” he said. “If these allegations prove to be true, this conduct is an egregious violation of the public’s trust and those who are found guilty in this scheme should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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