Sunday, May 18, 2008

Queens Democrats pull plug on Sabini

Kirsten Danis

Sunday, May 18th 2008, 4:00 AM

Things are getting weird in Queens.

The county's Democratic boss, Rep. Joseph Crowley, appears to be abandoning a sitting state senator just before a tough race in favor of his challenger, a city Councilman entangled in a criminal probe.

Why? Queens is changing, and the old guard is nervous.

Several sources confirmed that district leaders meeting tomorrow morning are poised to support Councilman Hiram Monserrate in his primary challenge against state Sen. John Sabini in September. The news reverberated throughout Democratic circles this weekend as it's extremely rare for a party to abandon a loyal incumbent with no major scandal hanging over him.

Monserrate came close to beating Sabini in 2006, and as the district that includes Jackson Heights, Corona and East Elmhurst becomes more Latino, the Hispanic councilman has a solid shot at winning this time around. Mayor Bloomberg blurted out at a private meeting of Council members recently that he would support Monserrate, a former Marine and city cop.

Sources said Crowley is worried about backing the wrong man and leaving Monserrate to build his own base, one that could then help him go after a bigger seat, possibly even Crowley's.

Sabini, a longtime legislator, has been especially vulnerable since he was arrested in Albany last year for drunken driving. He pleaded guilty in February to the lesser charge of driving while impaired.

On the other hand, Monserrate also has the potential for problems. The Queens district attorney and city Department of Investigation reportedly are probing whether Libre, a Queens nonprofit closely linked to Monserrate, helped him with his 2006 Senate race. The councilman, who denies involvement in anything untoward, has steered $400,000 in taxpayer money to the group.

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