UPPER EAST SIDE — As the rest of the city fixed its focus on the race to replace disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner in Brooklyn and Queens, candidates were out in force on the East Side Tuesday urging voters to cast their ballots in a special election for the state Assembly.
The seat went back up for grabs in June after incumbent Jonathan Bing, who beat Niehaus last year in a closer-than-expected race, was tapped by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to serve as Special Deputy Superintendent of the New York Liquidation Bureau, which regulates insolvent insurance companies.
Throughout the East Side Tuesday, volunteers rose before dawn and filed into polling stations, as volunteers for both camps plastered traffic poles with campaign signs and urged residents to get out to vote. Officials are expecting a very low turnout since the contest is Manhattan’s only non-primary race.
“It's on off-voting year,” explained Upper East Side resident and veteran elections inspector Nancy Soluri, 63. But she was certain that next year, in 2012, "we’ll be swamped.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg was among the first to cast his ballot shortly after 7 a.m. at P.S. 6. on the Upper East Side, and urged others to follow his lead.
“Whoever you elect today has the same votes as if somebody was elected in the general election,” Bloomberg said, noting that special elections are easier because turnout is so low.
Bloomberg was among the long list of elected officials who officially endorsed Quart, a lawyer and former community board member whose platform focused on bread-and-butter issues like reducing class sizes, improving air quality, bolstering rent protections and MTA service and helping businesses struggling because of the Second Avenue Subway construction.
“The governor made a good start, but he needs people in the legislature who will help him succeed,” said Quart, standing on Second Avenue near East 93rd Street with a hand full of brochures as voters began to head to the polls.
“We’re cautiously optimistic,” Quart said.
Farther west, on Lexington Avenue, Niehaus was making his case to commuters near the 77th Street subway stop, where volunteers gathered to pass out their fliers.
Niehaus, an attorney who has never held public office, again based his platform on “restoring fiscal sanity” in Albany, with reduced spending and lower taxes.
Niehaus said that this time around, the campaign was easier.
“In addition to being a little more relaxed about the process, it really feels like our message is resonating,” he said, adding that last year's race was overshadowed by Carl Paladino at the top of the ticket and numerous problems with the city’s new voting machines.
Despite all the posters and paper-pushing volunteers, many morning commuters said that casting a ballot was the last thing on their minds.
Still, some dedicated voters trickled into P.S. 6 and other polling stations before heading off to work.
“I think voting is very, very important, We fight to protect the right to vote and that means we have to show up,” said Morris Massel, 39, who's lived on the Upper East Side for 15 years and said he cast his ballot for Quart because of the candidate’s record on transportation and opposition to a controversial waste transfer station the city plans to build nearby.
"It's the positives in this case that really did it for me," he said.
Those supporting Niehaus, meanwhile, pointed to the candidate's position as a moderate Republican who would provide a unique voice in Manhattan's sea of Democratic blue.
“I believe that what he wants to do is to cut the spending and tell the truth,” said Sid Decker, 73, who was campaigning for Niehaus near East 86th Street, and complained that spending in Albany is out of control.