Four vie for vacated 6th C.D. seat

Grace Meng, Rory Lancman, Elizabeth Crowley, and Robert Grace Meng, Rory Lancman, Elizabeth Crowley, and Robert Mittman are seeking the 6th Congressional District seat. Photo Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy; Jason Andrew

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Assemb. Grace Meng of Flushing has the backing of the Democratic Party machinery in Queens as she tries to become the first Asian-American member of Congress from New York State, but faces a four-way primary Tuesday.

Meng, 36, is opposed by Assemb. Rory Lancman, 43, of Fresh Meadows; City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, 34, of Ridgewood and Dr. Robert Mittman, 53, a first-time candidate with a home and medical practice in Bayside.

The head of the Queens County Democratic Organization, Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Woodside), put party muscle behind Meng despite the candidacy of his cousin, Elizabeth, in backing a candidate from the borough's rapidly growing Asian population.

"Joe Crowley has a sense of history in backing Grace Meng," political consultant Bob Liff said. "The organization sees the up and coming [Asian] community, and brings them into the fold, builds the organization." Crowley, in a statement, called Meng "the right fit" for the district.

The 6th Congressional District extends from the Cross Island Parkway through north-central Queens to Glendale and Middle Village. It includes much of the district now represented by Gary Ackerman, who is retiring. Redistricting lopped off the northwest corner of Nassau County, leaving it an all-Queens district.

Census figures show the district is 40 percent white, 37 percent Asian and 17 percent Hispanic. There are 183,382 registered Democrats and 51,912 registered Republicans in the district, giving the Democratic nominee a strong advantage in November. The Republican designee is Daniel Halloran, 41, of Whitestone, a lawyer elected to the City Council in 2009.

Although there are no reliable statistics on the ethnicity and religion of voters, the candidates agree that Jewish voters in such neighborhoods as Forest Hills, Kew Gardens and Fresh Meadows are a key to winning. Lancman has tried to portray himself as the strongest supporter of Israel.

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Meng has the biggest war chest. As of June 6, she had raised almost as much as her three opponents combined, with $754,885. Lancman raised $459,295 (including a $150,000 loan from himself), Crowley $261,416 and Mittman $50,705 (nearly all from a $50,000 loan from himself).

The candidates have sparred at times during several debates and forums, but have staked out generally liberal positions and vowed to help middle-class families facing economic pressures.

"The deck is stacked against ordinary working people," Lancman said Wednesday as the candidates were interviewed separately on WNYC radio. Crowley said she understood such families "and the struggles that they go through every day."

In another forum, the candidates split on whether the $110,000 cap on the amount of income subject to Social Security taxes should be raised to help keep the system solvent.

Mittman and Lancman said it should be lifted and higher earners should pay the tax. Crowley and Meng said a rebounding economy will help fund the system, and Meng added that she might support an increase in the future, but not now.

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"People making $110,000, that is not necessarily a lot of money. I've always tried to be a voice for the voiceless and the middle class, right now, in this district, is our voiceless class," Meng said.

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