When a House Is Not a Home
These days Peter Vallone Jr. doesn't like being asked about the years he lived in Hollis Hills. Questions linger as to whether he returned to Astoria simply to run for office. In one sense though, he never left. Vallone spent most of his life in Astoria, in northwestern Queens. He grew up and now practices law in the neighborhood where his father has held a City Council seat since 1974.
According to voting records, moving to the eastern edge of Queens for most of the '90s didn't stop him from voting in his father's district.
When later asked why he continued to vote in Astoria when he wasn't living there, Vallone said, "I don't remember where I voted from back then." Voting records show that he voted at P.S. 122 at 21-21 Ditmars Boulevard from 1992 to 2000.
New York State law requires that voters reside at the address given when they register. Voters have to notify the Board of Elections if they change addresses. Vallone said he maintained a legal residence at his father's home.
"I know that it's legal to have different residences. And that's what I did," Vallone said. "I kept a residence there in the basement for a long time; for nights I wouldn't come home from work."
Naomi Bernstein, spokesperson for the city BOE, told the Voice that the voter is usually given the benefit of the doubt. But when a person's residency is challenged, the BOE investigates several things: "Is there a working telephone? Does the apartment look lived in? Is there mail addressed to someone other than 'Resident'?"
Vallone purchased a Jackson Heights condominium in his father's district in 1989. In the early '90s, he and his wife, Kristen, moved to a house outside of the district. "I got married in 1992, then we lived in that house from, say, '94 to '99. We moved to Hollis Hills to be closer to her family. We separated over a year ago." The couple took out a mortgage on that house on Hartland Avenue in 1992, and the deed was issued in 1993, according to Department of Finance records. The Vallones had two daughters while living in Hollis Hills and, according to DMV records, he changed his driver's license to reflect the new address. Last year he moved back into his condo.
Vallone registered to vote from his father's longtime home on 21st Drive in Astoria after he turned 18, in 1979. He didn't notify the Board of Elections of a change of address until July 2000, when he registered at his condo address. At that time he listed his father's home as his previous address. Both the condo and his father's house are within Council District 22 and Assembly District 36. But the Hollis Hills address was in Council District 23 and Assembly District 24.
Voter records show that Vallone voted seven times in his father's district between 1994 and 1999years he said he lived in Hollis. He voted in school board elections, primaries, and general elections.
He may not need to worry too much, though. "There isn't anything in the law that says you can't live in more than one place," New York State Board of Elections spokesperson Lee Daghlian said.
Vallone's family appears to have exerted a greater influence on Vallone's decision to run than any personal political ambition or ideology. "It's not something I planned for a long time at all," he said. "I'm 40 years old. I have a long record of community service. I've learned the value of public service from my father and my grandfather."
And he benefits not only from name recognition but also from family connections. Anthony Constantinople Jr., his uncle, and also his father's campaign treasurer, served as his treasurer as well until his younger brother, Paul, took over this year. "We like it in the family," Vallone said.
Friends of Peter Vallone Jr. started fundraising in 1999, according to documents filed with the New York Campaign Finance Board, however, at that time the office he'd run for was still undetermined. Vallone seemed surprised when asked about the date. "I'll have to take your word for it," Vallone said. " My first fundraiser was last year. I think we started an exploratory committee, but we didn't start fundraising till 2000."
Actually, his campaign raised over $24,000 in 1999 alone. His biggest contributors were also generous toward his father's campaign. Abraham, Lawrence, and Peter Gaslow of Empire Office Equipment donated $5500 to his campaign. The Gaslow family donated $21,500 to Vallone Sr.'s campaign. The family of Raymond Frier, a retired public relations consultant who volunteers for Vallone Sr.'s campaign, donated $2800 to Vallone Jr.'s campaign and $18,000 to Vallone Sr.'s. "We're close with the whole family," Mr. Frier said.
"We've known them for 25 years as friends." Vallone Jr. agreed, "They support us and we support them."
The two campaigns are connected in other ways as well. A document filed with the state Board of Elections on January 13, 1999, listed Peter Vallone Jr. as authorized to sign checks.
Last week saw court challenges knocking some of Vallone's competition off the Democratic primary ticket. But if there is one issue in Astoria that all the candidates for the council seat are united on, it's the fight to keep out new power plants. The district already has three. Vallone Jr. has used his position as pro bono legal counsel in CHOKE (Coalition Helping Organize a Kleaner Environment) as a platform for his opposition. The coalition was founded by Anthony Gigantiello, a school custodial engineer who donated $305 to Vallone Sr.'s campaign and helped collect petitions for Vallone Jr.'s campaign. Peter F. Vallone Sr. is CHOKE's honorary chairman.
The race for the seat is far from over. Sandra Vassos was knocked off the Democratic primary for being 39 signatures short, but is still on the Republican ticket. Mike Zapiti, the owner of a driving school and a real estate and insurance agent, is running in the Democratic primary on September 11. John Ciafone, a lawyer and vice president of School Board 30, is running on both the Democratic and Liberal lines. Michael Mascitti, bumped as a Democrat, remains on the Independence ticket. Whatever the future holds for Junior, his destiny is built on connections and family loyalty seemingly strong enough for him to bend the law.
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