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Race for Sanders’ seat still not decided

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Pesach Osina (l.) casts his vote Tuesday, as Donovan Richards waits to be introduced at Clippers II Lounge in Laurelton later that evening. Photos courtesy Pesach Osina (l.) and by Christina Santucci
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Donovan Richards (r.) embraces city Comptroller John Liu after entering his party. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Pesach Osina (l.) casts his vote. Photo courtesy Pesach Osina
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Donovan Richards is joined by his wife, Tameeka Richards, at his election-night party at Clippers II. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Donovan Richards, who was ahead in the race for the City Council District 31 seat, gets help on his victory speech from his former boss state Sen. James Sanders Jr., who formerly held the 31st Council seat. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Donovan Richards (front) speaks at his election-night party at Clippers II Lounge in Laurelton in the early morning hours of Wednesday, February 20, 2013. Richards is joined by (l.-r.) Councilman Brad Lander, city Comptroller John Liu, state Sen. Jose Peralta and Councilman Dan Garodnick. Photo by Christina Santucci

Despite the fact that two City Council candidates had each claimed victory in southeast Queens’ special election, by the next night the city Board of Elections had yet to count the votes on a missing memory stick, and it may be weeks before an official winner is declared.

By Wednesday night Donovan Richards had a 26-vote lead over Pesach Osina, according to the board’s preliminary results, with paper and absentee ballots yet to be counted, as well as the votes on a missing, mystery memory stick used in electronic voting machines.

Both Richards and Osina had already declared themselves the winner by the early hours Wednesday morning and did not lay off throughout the day. Richards said the missing votes would come in from outside Osina’s Orthodox Jewish community and tweeted that his closest opponent “ran a hell of a campaign.”

Osina released a statement saying he expected to be the winner when the votes were counted.

“I’m confident that when all the votes are final, we will be victorious!” he said.

According to election law, however, the board will not begin counting affidavits and absentee ballots until Wednesday, and with such a scant margin separating the top two candidates, next week’s results could trigger an automatic recount.

A spokeswoman at the BOE said that if the margin of victory is less than 0.5 percent, a manual recount is automatically triggered, a process that could take weeks.

Richards was leading Osina by 0.3 percent.

The race to fill the seat representing the Superstorm Sandy-ravaged areas of Far Rockaway as well as Rosedale, Laurelton and Springfield Gardens was short but hotly contested.

Nine candidates jumped in the field after the mayor in January called the special election to serve out the last ten months on the term of James Sanders, who moved onto the state Senate after defeating the scandal-plagued Shirley Huntley in September’s primary.

Community members outside Far Rockaway’s Orthodox Jewish neighborhood feared that the field of eight black candidates would split the vote, opening a path for Osina to make his way to City Hall representing the majority-black district.

At one forum in Springfield Gardens, several of the black candidates were asked if they would agree to nominate the one mostly likely to win among themselves to challenge Osina head-on, but no one offered to bow out.

During his victory speech in Laurelton, Richards called on the community to put aside its differences and work toward its common goals, such as rebuilding after the storm.

“Those who ran in this election, let’s not be bitter against each other,” he said. “If you are really for the community, if you are truly for the community, whether it is an Orthodox Jewish community whether it is the African-American community... I am calling on you to get your hands in there and get dirty.”

In a speech to supporters that appeared on YouTube, Osina indicated he was ready to reach out to the broader community.

“This was an honest, fair race and I would like to thank my opponents and I’m looking forward to working with each of them in the days and weeks ahead,” he said. “We have a long, hard road ahead of us, but I am committed to working with every one of my constituents to make this district stronger.”

As the results started to pour in late Tuesday evening, Jacques Leandre, who is in third place behind Osina, told supporters who had gathered just two blocks down from Richards’ camp that his would be an uphill battle.

While he had not conceded the race, Leandre called for unity in the district.

“Irrespective of who the winner is, we have to stand behind that person, as long as that person stands behind the community,” he said.

Whoever is ultimately declared the winner will likely have one eye on the rearview mirror as the seat will be up for grabs again later this year.

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

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