An Oakland Gardens attorney officially launched his second try at defeating a nearly 13-year State Senate incumbent, hoping a newly-redrawn majority Asian district and a one-on-one primary will give him a leg up this time around.
John Messer, 42, pointed out that since the new 16th District, which is now 53 percent Asian, no longer includes Bay Terrace — an area that voted largely for State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky in a primary race two years ago — he foresees a more level playing field. He also expects this year’s two-way battle to bode well in his favor.
“Everybody knows that when you bring more people into a race and you divide the vote, it gives an opportunity for an incumbent to win even though they don’t have a majority of the votes,” Messer said.
Stavisky won a three-way 2010 primary challenge against Messer and Isaac Sasson, a retired professor and cancer researcher, with 45 percent of the vote. Sasson is now supporting Messer, who rallied supporters at his July 22 campaign kickoff at the Flushing Mall.
“We hear the same thing over and over again,” said Messer, who has thrown in $351,000 of his own money to the campaign. “Voters of this district want change. Nothing I believed in two years ago has changed.”
Messer accused Stavisky of never hiring an Asian staffer in her dozen years as Flushing’s senator while pointing to his own two Asian campaign co-chairs, as well as his Chinese wife and three kids.
But Stavisky’s spokesperson, Josh Goodman, said the claims were false. The incumbent senator, he said, has had Asian-American staffers over the years, as well as Chinese and Korean language services available at her Flushing district office.
“Anybody in the community can always get help from Senator Stavisky regardless of her ethnic background and linguistic issues,” Goodman said. “I think it’s a little insulting of Mr. Messer to suggest she doesn’t understand a community that she serves so well.”
Stavisky — the first woman from Queens elected to the State Senate — has the backing of every Asian elected official in the city, Goodman said, as well as the Queens County Democratic Party and both U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer.
The winner of the September 13 Democratic primary will take on Republican candidate J.D. Kim.