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Gianaris Faces Challenger in 2020, Centrist Group Forms to Combat Left-Wing Dems

Justin Potter with his son Orlando (Photo: Justin Potter)

June 23, 2019 By Shane O’Brien

State Sen. Mike Gianaris faces a challenger in next year’s Democratic primary.

Justin Potter, a Long Island City resident, announced the launch of his campaign to represent the 12th Senate district recently, arguing that people can no longer count on Gianaris to take a pragmatic approach to policymaking.

Much of Potter’s criticism stems from Gianaris’ handling of Amazon as well as the lawmaker’s sudden shift to the left.

Potter, a self-described stay-at-home dad, said that Gianaris played a major role that led to the tech-giant’s decision to abandon its plans to create a Long Island City campus. The campus, advocates said, would have brought as many 25,000 jobs to Long Island City and boosted the local economy.

He started a ‘Defeat Gianaris’ movement soon after the deal collapsed. He created a website and has gained a twitter following. The movement subsequently led to the creation of Citizens for Queens, a centrist group he and others plan to grow within the Democratic party.

Citizens for Queens has just started raising money for Potter’s campaign.

Potter said that Gianaris has lost his way by attempting to curry favor with the left wing of the Democratic party, which has gained strength since the election of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He labeled Gianaris an ‘opportunist,’ noting his last minute support for Tiffany Caban who is running for Queens District Attorney as an example.

New York’s 12th State Senate district covers the neighborhoods of Astoria, Long Island City, Sunnyside and parts of Woodside, Maspeth, Ridgewood and Woodhaven.

Potter said Gianaris ignored the polling evidence that showed strong support for the Amazon deal in Long Island City and other parts of Queens.

“We believe Senator Gianaris is more interested in scoring political points than he is in protecting the long-term viability of our community. We need a representative who will embrace and leverage extraordinary opportunities,” Potter said.

Gianaris, along with a multitude of other Queens Democrats, opposed the Amazon deal on the grounds that the company would receive $3 billion in state and city financial incentives and was anti-union.

Potter, who was a registered Republican until making the switch this year, said that his former party affiliation should not undermine his campaign. He said he was registered with the GOP so he could have a say on the direction of the Republican party. He said that he has always voted for the Democratic candidate in presidential elections.

The catalyst for making the switch was his decision to run for office, he noted, since the winner of the Democratic primary traditionally wins the general. However, he said his beliefs are more aligned with the Democrats in any case.

For instance, Potter expressed his support for the legislation that permits undocumented immigrants to get a driver’s license. He also fully supports recreational marijuana and backs climate change legislation.

Potter also said that he supports congestion pricing, but that it needs to be done in the right way. He said it would wreak havoc on the local area, for instance, if people were to drive to western Queens, park their cars and ride the subway into Manhattan.

Potter said he helped form Citizens for Queens in April, in response to the party going too far left in his mind. The group plans to field candidates in other Democratic primaries and raise funds for them.

Gianaris, in a statement, said that he welcomes a challenge and noted Potter’s previous Republican affiliation.

“I successfully fought Republicans and their agenda over the last several years and I look forward to doing it again in this campaign,” he said. “I am confident my record protecting our neighborhoods from further displacement and fighting for better subways and delivering justice for tens of thousands on New Yorkers will be recognized by the voters.”

The primary will take place in June 2020.

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