15th District: Democrats Prepare To Challenge   
Republican Seat
By Michael Lanza
 
Albert Baldeo, a democratic candidate for Queens 15th State Senate District, speaks with locals near his Liberty Avenue campaign headquarters.
 
 
It’s 2006 all over again.

A sample of local and national headlines from two years ago reveals concerns about global warming, economists discussing the effects of a national housing bubble and a bald-white man moving out of the governor’s mansion in Albany. 
 
Heard anything similar recently?

Perhaps the headlines of 2008 seem like a case of déjà vu, but the details differ.

South-Queens residents may remember another headline from 2006. Democrat Albert Baldeo, an Ozone Park lawyer, ran an unlikely campaign against long-standing incumbent State Senator Serphin Maltese (R-Glendale) for Queens’ 15th State Senate District.

Baldeo is once again making headlines as he gears up for a 2008 rematch against Maltese, but this time he has company. Although he hasn’t made it “official,” Councilman Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) isn’t shy about stating what many have been speculating – he’s running too.
 
“The formal announcement will be next month,” he said.
South-Queens Democrats heading to the primary ballots again later this year can expect to face another familiar situation – choosing between a grassroots political upstart promising change and an experienced legislator with a firm grounding in the state’s political establishment, carrying the torch of a political dynasty.


A Surprising Challenger

Baldeo stunned political spectators in 2006 when he came within 800 votes, one percentage point, in a race many had already written off in favor of Maltese.

He said that after 18 years of Maltese’s running uncontested, many voters in the district wanted a new choice.

“Nobody thought he could be beaten,” Baldeo said. Registered democrats outnumber republicans two to one. It’s no longer the Archie Bunker district it once was. “The demographics have changed considerably. This is one of the most diverse areas in Queens.”

Baldeo, a former prosecutor and magistrate from Guyana, is currently an immigration lawyer operating out of his Liberty Avenue law office in Ozone Park.

Despite losses in the 2006 state senate contest and a 2005 city council election, he has continued to devote himself to public service through pro bono work and by advocating community issues. He has petitioned to Mayor Mike Bloomberg to improve safety on school buses, lead a lawsuit to improve living conditions for the residents of the Rochdale Village co-ops in Jamaica and formed a fund with his brother, Dr. Philip Baldeo, to assist the victims of Hurricane Katrina, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he said.

Baldeo is advocating reducing property taxes for working class people, improving public safety, reducing noise and air pollution and saving family homes from foreclosure if he is elected.

He said he would also refuse donations from special interest groups. “My campaign is not funded by special interests, lobbyists, political action groups or rogue unions. I will not be a puppet to anyone,” Baldeo said.

Baldeo said his ethnic background and history of representing minority groups and immigrants will give him an edge in the diverse district.

“I am the best candidate to represent that diversity and the only candidate who resonates with the voters’ need for change,” he said.

He’s confident he’ll get to face Maltese again in 2008.
“I won [the democratic nomination] in 2006 and I intend to win again.”

Baldeo has attributed his slim loss in 2006 to a swing in independent voters towards Maltese and lack of support from Democratic Party leaders.

His volatile relationship with the state’s democratic establishment has been a thorny issue for the Queens lawyer. Their silence, Addabbo’s imminent entry into the race and rumors of backroom deals, caused Baldeo to lose his composure, throwing out wild accusations against the councilman and the party.

“There’s no entitlement to the nomination. I hoped the democratic leaders would stand behind my candidacy,” he said. “There’s been too much back biting and cronyism. Now is not the time for cronyism.”

“Addabbo is running because he’s term limited, he needs a job,” Baldeo said.

He later went on to say that Maltese and Addabbo were actually good friends.

“A lot of people see this as an effort to ensure Maltese keeps his seat. He’s [Addabbo] seen as a party pooper.”
Addabbo wasn’t fazed by the accusations.

“I respect Senator Maltese. That doesn’t mean I don’t think I can do a better job,” Addabbo said. “We’re going to keep positive. That attitude will carry me through to the general election.”


Ready For A Challenge

Addabbo has Queens politics in his blood. He is a lifelong resident of Queens and the son of the Congressman Joseph P. Addabbo Sr., who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1961 to 1986.

He was elected to represent the 32nd Council District of Queens in 2001 and will wrap up eight years on the council in 2009, the maximum term that can be served. He is the chair of the council’s Civil Service and Labor Committee.
Addabbo said he has been fighting to improve the quality of life for his constituents. He said he is proposing a veteran’s tax benefit that would allow Cold War veterans to seek the same benefits as veterans of conventional wars. He created legislation that allowed donors to choose which City park their money would be invested in. Addabbo is also fighting current proposals to consolidate senior centers throughout the city.

Addabbo said he wants to bring these and other issues to Albany.

“I want to keep families from having to leave Queens, improve public safety and education and create new jobs,” he said. “This campaign will be issue driven when I announce in May.”

Despite that proclamation, Addabbo was short on details.
“Right now I’m just talking to people. This will be a campaign driven by the voice of the people.”

Addabbo insists his experience will give him the edge in the election. “There’s a lot of difference between us, but my credibility and experience gives me a head start. I’m going to demonstrate that my values, background and work ethic are going to be very beneficial to residents of the district,” he said.

Baldeo has accused Addabbo of not representing district’s large immigrant community, but Addabbo says he wants to include everyone.

“It’s not just about dealing with the new residents; it’s about dealing with everyone. Seniors have issues, working families have issues – you need to address all of them.”
Despite the accusations and some inter-party drama, both Baldeo and Addabbo are promising to give Maltese a  race to remember.

Yes, it’s 2006 all over again. But with sparks already flying and tensions rising on just the democratic side, this race has enough new details to warrant a second look.
 

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