By QueensCampaign staff
Queens, N.Y. – Voters battled redistricting confusion and the havoc from Hurricane Sandy to elect New York State’s first Asian-American representative in Congress, Grace Meng, and re-elect Democratic State Sen. Joseph Addabbo on Tuesday.
Meng, a Democratic state assemblywoman, won in the newly formed Congressional District 6 with more than two-thirds of the votes over her Republican opponent, City Councilman Dan Halloran. Meng defeated Halloran 100,571 votes to 46,305, according to NY1. Nationwide, Republicans remain in control of the House.
A Taiwanese-American, Meng has been inclined to emphasize her gender over her ethnicity throughout her campaign, noting that women “make up only 17 percent of Congress.”
“With the backdrop of so much loss in our neighborhoods and with so many people in need, thank you all for the victory and the trust you’ve placed in me,” Meng told supporters at a victory party at the Sheraton LaGuardia East, according to DNAinfo. We have a lot of work to do on behalf of the people who have suffered from Hurricane Sandy.”
By 11 p.m., only a small handful of Halloran’s supporters gathered at the Safari Beach Club in Bayside to await results of the election. No more than two dozen people attended the event. Supporters spent much of Tuesday night watching presidential election results roll in on several cable news outlets.
By 11:30 p.m., when news outlets began calling the race for Meng, a small group of supporters left the bar, and Halloran’s spokesman, Kevin Ryan, said he didn’t know if Halloran would make a concession speech at the sparsely populated bar.
Meng was the favorite in the overwhelmingly Democratic district with an Asian-American plurality. After winning a six-way Democratic primary in June, Meng secured the endorsement of Rep. Gary Ackerman of the old District 5 that makes up a large part of the redistricted District 6. She also was endorsed by former Mayor Ed Koch and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, among others. Halloran’s only major endorsement was that of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Meng also easily outraised Halloran in fundraising efforts.
Meng’s campaign suffered a blow in late July when her father, former State Assemblyman Jimmy Meng, became embroiled in a bribery scandal.
Democratic state Sen. Joseph Addabbo beat Republican City Councilman Eric Ulrich with 57 percent of the vote – 38,011 to 28,358, the New York Daily News reported. Party control of the state Senate may not be decided for two weeks, after absentee ballots are fully counted, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Although Addabbo was leading early Wednesday morning with three-quarters of the vote counted, Ulrich initially declined to concede, citing the closeness of the race and the wait for paper ballots from storm-ravaged areas. The Republican State Senate Committee had made substantial investments in Ulrich’s campaign.
However, by late Wednesday morning, Ulrich released a statement saying he had called Addabbo to congratulate him. “Joe and I have always maintained a mutual respect for each other and we both agree that now is the time to move beyond the election and work together for the benefit of the people and the community we are both proud to represent,” he said in the statement.
“I am eager to get back to work in the City Council and am committed to helping the thousands of residents who have suffered the wrath of Hurricane Sandy get back on their feet,” Ulrich said.
The hurricane played a role in both the Addabbo and Ulrich campaigns. Addabbo’s base is in hard-hit Howard Beach. In the storm’s aftermath, his campaign was forced to redirect its efforts. For example, Peter DeLucia, Addabbo’s director of special events, usually works as a poll watcher for Addabbo. But this week he and other workers collected food, clothing, medical supplies and toiletries from upstate New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Georgia. And they started distributing those items on Wednesday.
“Our office was ruined,” he said. “So we set up a temporary relief center outside.”
He said because Addabbo’s backers were busy helping those affected by the storm, the campaign didn’t get as many volunteers on Election Day. So Addabbo didn’t have as many people to hand out fliers and watch the polls as in years past.
Addabbo told QueensCampaign.com that although all the votes weren’t in, “in areas that we didn’t expect we’d do well in, we are. You can tell a lot by that.”
Addabbo thanked his supporters, but was still thinking of those affected by Sandy. “Tomorrow we go right back to work” helping the victims, Addabbo said at his party at Woodhaven House in Ozone Park.
Ulrich last night blamed the storm for the outcome. “Had the hurricane not come, we’d be ahead right now, but we’re not,” he said. “We’re not conceding victory at this time because the difference between me and my opponent is still only a few percentage points, and thousands of paper ballots are out there.”
Speaking of Addabbo, Ulrich said, “I know he declared victory. I think it was a bit premature. We also have to see the recanvasing of the machines. We don’t know if there was miscounting.”
At Ulrich’s party Tuesday night, supporter U.S. Rep. Bob Turner, who lost his bid for the U.S. Senate in June, also blamed the hurricane. “This night has been an election to win in a breeze, if it had not been for Sandy,” Turner said.
His Breezy Point home was one of those destroyed in a fire during Hurricane Sandy. He said he had been to the Rockaways earlier in the day and saw that some people couldn’t make it to their polling sites. “We had some real disappointment with the turnout,” he said.
Southern Queens, including the Rockaway Peninsula and Howard Beach, was among the areas hardest hit by the hurricane.
Kevin Sullivan, who works for Addabbo, said staffers informed displaced voters that they could cast their votes at “super sites” – polling places created to absorb voters whose regular sites were closed. For example, the P.S. 232 Lindenwood site combined voters from P.S. 207 in Rockwood Park and P.S. 146 in Howard Beach.
Sullivan said the Addabbo campaign even put a taxi service outside some of the closed polling sites to take voters to sites where they could vote.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo assigned MTA buses marked “Voter Shuttle” to bring people in the Rockaways to alternate sites.
Those who drove themselves to the polls had to deal with the gas shortage.
Linda Cruz, 35, of Howard Beach used precious fuel to drive to P.S. 232 to cast her ballot. “We were waiting for seven hours to get gas to come here and vote.”
She added, “It’s important to make sure people we elect take care of people like us when things like this happen.”
Larissa Triolo of Howard Beach, who just got her electricity back Monday, said she and her husband had to get a rental car because their vehicles were ruined in the storm. But she said her husband couldn’t get gas for it today.
“Lucky, he could walk here,” she said.
Alexis Fletcher, 31, of Howard Beach could have walked to P.S. 232, where she had planned to vote for Mitt Romney and Sen. Addabbo. But she didn’t.
“My head is not in it because of the way I was affected,” said Fletcher, standing outside her pitch-black house, smoking a cigarette. “You’re not in the mindset of voting. Everything else goes out the window when this happens.”
To help displaced voters who can’t get to their poll sites, Gov. Cuomo allowed the use of “affidavit ballots” – which require the voters to sign a sworn statement they’re eligible to vote elsewhere.
Halloran criticized the use of affidavit ballots, saying they create more problems than they solve. Before his campaign party, Halloran was at P.S. 20 John Bowne in Flushing, Meng’s stronghold. He spotted a small Meng poster in the passenger side window of a silver SUV parked across the street and notified a poll coordinator. “Thats a violation of campaign law,” he said. Voting materials are not allowed within 100 feet of polling sites.
Voter Diana Figueroa said Hurricane Sandy didn’t affect her, and she took advantage of the affidavit system to cast her ballot for Obama. Voting at P.S. 20 took only about 20 minutes, though she said she didn’t show up in the registered voter database.
Other voters weren’t so lucky. P.S. 232 poll worker Barbara Friedman said many voters were impatient and left before casting a ballot.
“After 9/11, everybody pulled together. It created a community of support,” she said. “I haven’t seen that this time.”
At around 7 p.m., 70 to 80 people stood in line waiting to cast their ballots at Queens Library in Forest Hills. Dozens of them were confused about their polling place.
Ozone Park resident Leslie Swanson said her voting location changed this year, but it wasn’t because of the storm – it was due to redistricting. But although her vote came easily, she said, her mother was not so lucky.
“My mother lives out in Jersey, and she was staying with a friend of mine in the Bronx,” she said. “Her power came back on yesterday so she came home. But she had some trouble getting gas to get back to vote.”
Isaac Gordon, 26, who has lived in Howard Beach for 18 years, said he lost of all his belongings to the flood. He voted for Addabbo’s opponent, Eric Ulrich, “because he’s my sister’s old friend…. We came out to vote because we’re Americans. That’s what we do.”
Lindsey Bever, Michaelle Bond, Aram Chung, Ellie Ismailidou, Sebastien Malo, Jeff Morganteen and Francesca Trianni contributed to this report.