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Primary Showdown Ahead for 6th Congressional District

By Nigel Chiwaya | June 25, 2012 2:21pm
Assembly Rory Lancman, Assemblywoman Grace Meng and Dr. Robert MIttman at a congressional debate on June 18.
Assembly Rory Lancman, Assemblywoman Grace Meng and Dr. Robert MIttman at a congressional debate on June 18.
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DNAInfo/Nigel Chiwaya

QUEENS — A heated primary among Queens Democrats will come to an end Tuesday, as voters from New York's redrawn 6th Congressional District head out to the polls.

The candidates in the race, Assemblywoman Grace Meng, Assemblyman Rory Lancman, City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley and Dr. Robert Mittman, have engaged in a whirlwind primary battle that has turned nasty in the final few weeks.

Here's a look at the race and the contenders:

The District

The district that candidates are vying to represent was redrawn in March and contains parts of Rep. Robert Turner's old 9th District and parts of retiring Congressman Gary Ackerman's 5th District. As such, the new 6th District, which stretches from Bayside to Ridgewood, is diverse, with many ethic groups, cultures and political leanings.

Ackerman's surprise March 15 announcement that he would not seek reelection means that there is no incumbent running in the race. Whoever wins will be new to Washington politics, as none of the Democratic candidates nor the presumptive Republican nominee, City Councilman Dan Halloran, who is running unopposed in his primary, has held national office before.

The Democratic Candidates

Grace Meng, elected in 2008, represents Flushing in the state assembly and is the only Asian-American in legislature. If she is elected, she will be the first Asian-American in the New York Congressional delegation, according to reports.

Meng, who speaks four languages, presents herself as a bridge-builder who isn't afraid to compromise in order to get things done. "There's nothing wrong with being friends with Republicans," she told DNAinfo.com New York during a campaign stop last week in Elmhurst.

Meng has said that she would fight for an economic stimulus for Queens residents, and has stated that she is in favor of tax credits for small businesses that hire military veterans and those that have been out of work for over six months.

She is also in favor of raising the cap on Social Security taxes for those earning over $110,000, but has said she would push for it when the economy has stabilized.

To balance the budget, Meng has said she supports cuts to defense contracts and a millionaire's tax.

Her campaign has picked up several endorsements, most notably Ackerman's, and the Queens Democratic party, including Elizabeth Crowley's cousin, Congressman Joe Crowley. In addition, Meng's campaign has raised a significantly larger war chest than her opponents.

Rory Lancman, who represents Queens neighborhoods including Kew Gardens Hills, Bayside, parts of Flushing and Jamaica, was elected to the assembly in 2006, along with then-Governor Eliot Spitzer and then-Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

Lancman claims he is the candidate best prepared to make an immediate impact in Washington, often citing the 19 laws he helped pass in the state assembly as evidence of his ability to work across party lines.

Lancman has made Social Security one of the primary focuses of his campaign. Like Meng, he favors raising the cap on taxes for high earners. However, he favors making such a move immediately.

On the economy, Lancman supports creating jobs by investing in infrastructure improvements, which he called the "modern-day new deal" at a debate on June 21, and by making it easier for small businesses to get credit.

Lancman's campaign has been endorsed by former Mayor Ed Koch, and the Working Families Party, among others.

Elizabeth Crowley, who represents southwestern Queens, most notably Maspeth, Middle Village and Glendale, in the City Council, was elected in 2008 after a grueling series of special and general elections to replace disgraced councilman Dennis Gallagher.

Crowley has made the economy the primary issue of her campaign. A former construction site painter, she said she would push for an increase in construction and development jobs in addition to expanding the helmets-to-hard-hats program that puts military veterans to work in construction.

She does not support raising the cap on Social Security taxes for high earners, calling it "a tax on the middle class" and "a bad plan." Instead, she insists that strengthening the economy and lowering unemployment are the best ways to ensure the program's long-term solvency.

The Crowley campaign has picked up the endorsement of several unions, including the New York City Carpenter's union, the New York City Building and Construction Trades Council and the Communication Workers of America Local 1101.

Robert Mittman, an allergist in Bayside with no previous political experience, is on the ballot after surviving a drawn-out petition challenge by the Lancman campaign.

Healthcare is the primary issue of the Mittman campaign, as he advocates setting turning medical schools into hubs and paying up to 75 percent of a student's medical school tuition in exchange for ten years of service in an underserved community.

On social security, Mittman has said during debates that he supports raising the social security tax cap. Mittman also advocates cutting defense spending, saying: "we can't afford to be the policeman of the world anymore."

Social Issues

The candidates differ on several social issues. Lancman and Meng have said they are against stop-and-frisk, while Mittman is a supporter of the controversial NYPD program. Crowley has not definitively come down for or against it. Both Crowley and Mittman support voter ID laws, while Meng and Lancman are opposed to them.

The Campaign

Over the past few weeks, the campaigns have exchanged several barbs. Lancman has accused the other candidates of "sticking their heads in the sand" and ignoring the problems of Social Security, while Meng has accused Lancman of negative campaigning over campaign literature that features nuclear warheads, which she said "literally scared" her children.

Mittman has blasted all three opponents during debates, labeling them as "three peas in a pod" and blaming them for the closure of five hospitals in Queens — St. John's, Parkway, Mary Immaculate, St. Joseph's and Penninsula — within the past five years. Mittman, who still sees patients at his Bayside practice during the day, has also attacked Meng and Lancman for missing out on votes while campaigning.

Crowley's campaign has suffered several setbacks. The councilwoman was caught being fed an answer on stop-and-frisk by the head of the police union, Pat Lynch, and came under fire after she was caught repeatedly staring at her cell phone during a debate in May.

Meng has been repeatedly attacked for saying in a May debate that, had she been in office, she would have joined with other New York house Democrats and voted to defund the NYPD over its domestic spying program. Meng has said the vote was symbolic, while Lancman has called the hypothetical vote "reckless."