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Unions and Elected Officials Throw Cash Into Race for Queens Council Seat

By Katie Honan | August 1, 2017 9:28am
 The council seat will be influential for developments including Willets Point and LaGuardia Airport.
The council seat will be influential for developments including Willets Point and LaGuardia Airport.
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Francisco Moya/Hiram Monserrate

CORONA — The crowded race for Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland's seat has seen candidate donations from local unions and elected officials — while grass-roots candidates say they're limited in how much money they can raise while they struggle to get on the ballot. 

Assemblyman Francisco Moya — who received the endorsement from unions and Public Advocate Letitia James last week — has raised the most cash, with more than $114,000 in his coffers, records show. 

The Buildings and Construction Trade, District Council 9, SEIU and the Correction Officer's Benevolent Association all gave significant money to his campaign, with many giving the maximum donation of $2,750.

Multiple current City Council members also maxed out for Moya, including Councilmen Donovan Richards, Robert Cornegy and Corey Johnson. 

Despite a later start than his main competitor, Hiram Monserrate, the assemblyman said he's been encouraged by smaller donations coming from residents.

"This is a testament to the tremendous support we've received from everyday New Yorkers who volunteered their time and gave hundreds of small-dollar campaign contributions," he said in a statement.

Monserrate, who held the position in the council from 2002 to 2009, brought in more than $30,000 in mostly small donations.

The disgraced former politician, who was removed from the state senate for assaulting his girlfriend and served time in federal prison for fraud, said he's "the candidate of the people, not of the special interest like other candidates in this race."

"We call him the grass roots candidate who isn't grass roots," his spokesman, Angel Audiffred, told DNAinfo.

"He's trying to run his campaign as if he were."

There have also been large donations, including $1,000 from AFSCME Local 983, the union that represents employees including urban park rangers and parks enforcement police officers. 

The 21st council district includes Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, the largest park in Queens, which is staffed by multiple Parks Enforcement Patrol officers and hosts multiple events including soccer leagues such as Estudiantil, whose president, Dino Dominguez, gave $2,000.

Monseratte also received a $1,000 donation from Gregory Petzold, a political consultant who has worked on local campaigns, including as a liaison for Senator Jose Peralta's last senate race, records show.

He's received endorsements from Bertha Lewis, the founder and president of The Black Institute, who gave $175, records show. The support should offer a boost throughout his district, with Lewis telling the New York Post residents told her "nothing’s been the same around here since Hiram left office."

Moya said his rival's history in politics will be reflected in the campaign.

"Hiram Monserrate's history of violence, theft and corruption is how voters will measure his campaign," he said in a statement.

The council seat, which has been held by Ferreras-Copeland since 2009, will wield influence over major development deals, including the multi-billion dollar renovation of LaGuardia Airport and the future of Willets Point.

A portion of the city's plan with Willets Point developers was blocked last month in appeals court, putting a deal struck in 2013 in limbo.

Both Moya and Monserrate have also announced alternate proposals for the Iron Triangle, centered on affordable housing.

In the campaign, the remaining three candidates — Erycka Montoya, Yonel Letellier Sosa and Cristina Furlong — have raised significantly less funds as their petitions have been challenged by Moya, records show.

Furlong, a local street safety activist who embraced her role as an underdog candidate, said she's hit a roadblock in trying to meet her modest goal of $30,000 before the September primary. 

"Fundraising for me is hindered by the fact that the first question people ask is, are you on the ballot," she said. 

She plans to defend the challenge in civil court, adding that it's been daunting to be sued by "lawyers of a very powerful machine," referring to the Queens Democratic Party, who are supporting Moya. 

She remains committed to the reason she ran, to bring "a voice that I'm representing as a mother and a parent of public school child."

But she also hopes for a change in the way elections work. 

"There's no place for an underdog candidate to run in Queens County," she said.