McCaffrey Out Of Congress Primary, Short Revenge Saga Ends
It was a sad moment last Friday when Councilmember Walter McCaffrey dropped out of the Democratic primary race against Congressmember Joseph Crowley, bringing to a close a two-year quest to move from the City Council to Congress and settle an old score.
The quiet-spoken but determined Woodside lawmaker said he was forced to withdraw because, McCaffrey declared:
"Questions about my financial filings and difficulties in raising sufficient funds have cast a cloud over the campaign.
"While I have done nothing wrong, I realize that I cannot conduct a difficult race with these issues unresolved. My good name is much more important to me than any political office. I am eternally grateful to all of my supporters and I am sorry for disappointing them by dropping out of what I considered to be a winnable race."
McCaffrey’s exit came just 46 days before Queens Democrats would have had to choose between two regular organization stalwarts. That choice would be made after what was expected to be a bitter campaign which, with the voting, could cause cause a serious crack in party unity and do damage to the party’s leadership.
The lawmaker’s announcement came several hours after he met with Queens Democratic Party leader Thomas Manton and Council Speaker Peter Vallone (Astoria), who has worked closely with McCaffrey in the Council. They met at Buccaneer Diner on Astoria Boulevard in East Elmhurst.
Aside from the broad repercussions of McCaffrey’s withdrawal on his own political career and on Democratic politics in Queens, there are still questions about his campaign finances to be resolved. The latter were expected to be taken up yesterday by the Board of Elections. The Gazette will report on this in next week’s issue.
McCaffrey’s campaign to topple Crowley from the 7th Congressional District seat and thus right a wrong that he felt was perpetrate against him two years ago came unglued when television station New York 1 News reported several days ago that the 16-year Council veteran had used funds from his campaign treasury for his personal use.
Specifically, the report stated that McCaffrey, who does not drive an automobile, had used campaign funds during the past two years for a car service that often cost about $400 a week. In all, the report said, about $54,000 of expenditures from the campaign fund were made by McCaffrey, who reportedly acknowledged the accuracy of the reported findings.
Other political sources reported that Queens Democratic Party Chairman Thomas Manton seized upon the report of alleged misuse of campaign funds to force McCaffrey to quit the race against Crowley, whom Manton supports strongly.
Ironically, it had been Manton, a longtime personal friend and close political ally of McCaffrey who had precipitated McCaffrey’s challenge to Crowley and the regular Queens Democratic organization.
When Manton resigned from the 7th CD seat suddenly in 1998 just before the November elections, he designated Crowley as his successor, passing over McCaffrey and several other aspirants.
Manton’s resignation was timed to prevent any primary challenge to Crowley. It is a political device often used in similar situations and conforms with election regulations.
The abrupt move by Manton without serving notice on McCaffrey or others vying for the seat, including Assemblymember Catherine Nolan (D–Ridgewood) and Councilmember John Sabini (D–Jackson Heights), prompted the jilted trio to form an alliance to pick a candidate from among them to challenge Crowley in the Sept. 12th primary.
The three office holders are also members of the regular Queens Democratic organization headed by Manton. They are Democratic district leaders with strong loyal local organizations. So their coalition figured to give McCaffrey a good chance of winning the primary. The Queens/Bronx 7th CD covers areas in Queens from Elmhurst to Bayside, including McCaffrey, Nolan, and Sabini strongholds in Woodside, Sunnyside, Ridgewood, Elmhurst, Long Island City, Astoria, Jackson Heights and Corona.
The disclosure of McCaffrey’s campaign finance problem thus presented an opening to get him out of the primary race and avert the intra-party clash that was looming.
Manton seized the opportunity. He asked McCaffrey to join him at a breakfast meeting Friday morning along with Council Speaker Peter Vallone the leading Democrat in the city.
Political and media sources reported that Vallone, a Crowley supporter, joined with Manton in putting pressure on McCaffrey by citing his financial problems and noting how they damaged his campaign and where they could lead.
Vallone and Manton also emphasized that Vallone, one of the leading candidates for mayor next year, wanted party unity restored.
Several hours later, at 2:19 p.m., McCaffrey’s announcement of his withdrawal from the race against Crowley came over the fax machine in the Gazette office.
Soon after, Vallone issued a statement saying: "I am glad Councilmember McCaffrey will again be able to devote 100 percent of his time to Council matters. He is one of the brightest and most capable officials I know."
Manton’s reaction to McCaffrey’s departure was: "We’re sorry Walter is having some trouble with his campaign filings and we hope he can satisfy the regulatory bodies involved and then go on to continue being a good public servant. We’ve disagreed on some things but we still wish him good luck.
Several hours after McCaffrey’s announcement, Crowley issued the following statement:
"I am saddened to hear of my opponents withdrawal from the primary election. I know it was a difficult decision for him, but it is a decision that will allow me to continue my work representing Queens and the Bronx in Congress to improve schools for our children, strengthen Social Security and provide prescription drug coverage under Medicare. I look forward to continuing my campaign for reelection by reaching out to as many voters as possible to earn their trust and their vote to serve another term in Congress."
Crowley, a former Assemblymember, faces only nominal opposition in the general election. In his freshman term, he has worked tirelessly on issues affecting all segments of his constituency.