From The Blog

An undaunted underdog

Republican City Councilman Dan Halloran says writing him off in the Congressional District 6 race is a disservice....

By Jeff Morganteen

QUEENS, N.Y. — Driving from campaign stops in his large white Jaguar last month, Dan Halloran’s iPhone rings. He puts it on speaker. It’s his mother.

“Mom, I’m in the middle of an interview with a reporter,” said Halloran, the Republican candidate for Congressional District 6. “What’s up?”

His mother tells him that a friend heard news from “the Koreans.” They’re saying they’re going to vote for you, she tells him. She also reports another news item, that a friend received a phone call — maybe a robo-call — from Assemblywoman Grace Meng, his Democratic opponent.

Halloran, an outspoken and controversial city councilman, thinks victory is possible. He thinks a slim chance exists somewhere amid the nearly $1.4 million disadvantage in fundraising, the lack of outside support from the National Republican Congressional Committee and his enduring label as an underdog among political insiders and media. True, he’s a Republican running in the newly redrawn congressional district, a wide swath of northwest Queens tailored for a Democratic and Asian candidate. But despite all that, Halloran thinks he has chance.

“I think writing this off is just a disservice,” Halloran said. “I’d like nothing more than to wake up on Nov. 7 as the congressman-elect and have a real fun time with the media the next day.”

The 6th Congressional District holds a 3-to-1 Democratic advantage and a large Asian population. Halloran faces Meng, who has strong family ties to Queen’s growing Asian community. Facing that, Halloran finds ways to remain optimistic — and busy.

Shoestring and shoe-leather

Halloran drives himself to all his campaign events. He grew up a few blocks from Kissena Park park in Flushing, so he prides himself on knowing the shortcuts better than his staffers, most of whom also work in his City Council office.

Halloran is a relative newcomer to Queens’ political scene. He left his work as a criminal defense attorney to run for the City Council in 2009, and before that he left the city Police Department after getting into law school.

“I’m hands-on person,” Halloran said. “It’s not worth it to have somebody driving you around. I know the 6th Congressional District better than anyone.”

Halloran’s job remains to make sure voters know him, and for the right reasons. Either by design or necessity, the cash-strapped Halloran campaign has been a shoe-leather operation.

At one point during the drive from campaign stop to campaign stop last month, Halloran grew introspective about strategy, specifically questioning the wisdom of holding a fundraiser with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani earlier last month, so late into the campaign season.

“I should have asked him to do at the beginning of the summer instead of waiting until October, just for the money part of it,” Halloran said, navigating through midday traffic on the way to Whitestone. “That’s a quicker way to start the cash flowing. But I did it because I felt it was important to have a real endorsement from someone who really counted closer to the election, because that shifts perceptions.”

Fundraising numbers don’t bode well for Halloran. Over the past three months, Halloran raised only about a tenth of the $527,917 that Meng brought in over the same time period. Halloran is also receiving minimal support from state and national political action committees that have been flooding other races with millions of dollars.

“It hurts our campaign,” Halloran said of the gap. “I would love to be able to do more mailings and things like that.”

David McFadden, a former congressional candidate who founded the conservative ForNY PAC, said the District 6 race falls into the “non-competitive” category.

“You have multiple frontrunners out competing for a piece of same pie,” McFadden said. “You’re only going to see people like Dan Halloran fall to the fringes.”

Halloran, however, trusts Queens. The borough helped Giuliani get elected as a Republican mayor of a Democratic city in 1993 and 1997, Halloran said. Neighborhoods in District 6 have a history of voting for Republican candidates, he added, mentioning Serf Maltese and Frank Padavan, two-long-time Republican state senators (Halloran does not mention that both politicians lost re-election bids in 2008 and 2010, respectively.) Part of the City Council district that elected Halloran in 2009 is also in District 6, he said.

“This whole area, despite the 3-to-1 registration, has always voted for Republicans when the right Republican is around,” Halloran said.

Brain tumors and political strategy

Before eyeing Washington, Halloran considered running for state Senate. Then-U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-Queens, announced his retirement this past March, leaving no incumbent for the newly created District 6 seat. The Queens Republican Party called him the same month to discuss the potential of running, Halloran said.

A group of about 20 to 25 people involved with the Queens Republican Party sat down and hashed out the voter registration numbers in the newly created Congressional District. It seemed doable, so Halloran announced his candidacy on March 26.

The next day, Halloran said he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He made out a will, straightened out affairs with the City Council, and went into the hospital for brain surgery in early May. His tumor, which was benign, rested on a nerve behind his right ear; doctors told Halloran about the risks to his motor skills, hearing and speech. He recovered several days before doctors thought he would, Halloran said, crediting a “thick Irish skull.”

Halloran has since turned the tumor scare into a political attack. Meng missed more than 75 percent of votes in the state Assembly while campaigning in a heated Democratic primary, according to the New York Daily News. Halloran almost always cites his tumor when taking Meng to task over her attendance records.

“What’s the answer to something like that?” Halloran said. “I had a brain tumor and went in for surgery and was off my f—ing feet and was physically not able to go to work and was running for Congress and still did my job.”

As his political profile grew from the City Council into the national arena, Halloran was hounded by personal issues. Financial and marital problems compounded the surprise diagnosis. Halloran remains locked in an ongoing foreclosure process and a year-long divorce from his wife, Cynthia, according to Queens County court records.

Life in the public eye has also taken a toll of Halloran’s social prospects. A packed schedule of committee meetings and campaign stops keep Halloran from catching up with friends over a football or baseball game. He also fears the constant scrutiny that comes along with life as a city councilman turned congressional contender.

“God, I hope I’m not 45 and still not married again,” Halloran said.

Political baggage

Meng’s campaign brings up the same talking points when referring to her opponent: He’s a Tea Party Republican whose values don’t align with middle-class residents in Queens, they say. The Meng camp seems content to ride its advantage in voter registration and fundraising to the voting booth. They’ve declined to reference his significant political baggage.

Halloran’s city-wide name recognition may come from controversies he has gotten involved in over two years as a city councilman. He first caught heat for leading a group of neo-Pagan followers in an obscure religion called Theodism, the Queens Tribune and Village Voice reported.

After that, Halloran became a minor YouTube star when he recorded his altercation with an overzealous traffic officer who was later disciplined by the city. Then he was featured in an expletive-laden rant at a noisy auto repair shop that annoyed residents in Flushing.

Halloran is unapologetic. “Do you want somebody that can get things done, or do you want the status quo? It’s not a blind sort of bullying.”

Halloran made a point to drive past the auto repair shop on 172nd Street before heading to an afternoon event in Douglaston, his last before he could head home to change and eat lunch.

“It’s all quiet now,” Halloran pointed out.

Then came the December 2010 blizzard that paralyzed New York City for several days. A few days afterward, Halloran told the New York Post that Department of Sanitation workers told him supervisors had orchestrated a slowdown because of a labor dispute with Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Neither a grand jury nor the city Department of Investigation could find evidence of an intentional slowdown, leading to calls for Halloran’s resignation.

Halloran refused to name his sources, citing attorney-client privilege with the five sanitation workers who he said came forward. Nearly two years later, Halloran isn’t backing down.

“My contention is that the supervisors muddied the waters and slowed things down,” Halloran said last month. “That’s what my community saw.”

Douglas Montgomery, a Community Board 11 member from Douglaston, said he likes Halloran’s aggressive and unorthodox approach to politics. Douglaston, however, is Halloran’s home turf as a councilman. It’s not part of the larger congressional district Halloran is looking to sway.

“To me, he’s personable,” Montgomery said. “He’s not a traditional politician. He’ll sit down and shoot the sh-t. That’s got him in some problems, but that’s why I like him.”

If Halloran’s David-versus-Goliath congressional victory doesn’t come to fruition, then he’ll have another campaign to worry about in 2013 — a re-election bid for his council seat. Even a defeat in a congressional campaign might help him next year, City Councilman Peter Koo of Flushing said.

“He can use this opportunity to push his philosophy and his name so then more people know about him,” Koo said. “Now, he’s a congressional contender, instead of just local contender.”