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City Council candidates make their cases to civics

Eighteen months before the 2009 City Council elections are to take place, eight hopeful candidates for the seats now held by City Councilmen David Weprin (D-Hollis) and James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) began their campaigns at a civic association meeting in Fresh Meadows.

Five — Dave Kerpen, Dale Nussbaum, Bob Friedrich, Bryan Rivera and Swaranjit Singh — are vying for Weprin's 23rd Council District seat, covering Holliswood, Hollis, Glen Oaks, Queens Village, Bellerose and some of Little Neck.

Three — Martha Taylor, Jeff Gottlieb and Michael Simanowitz — are running for Gennaro's seat in the 24th District, covering Fresh Meadows, Jamaica Estates, Briarwood, Kew Gardens Hills and bits of Forest Hills and Jamaica.

This joint meeting, held May 28 between the Utopia Estates and West Cunningham Park civic associations at the Grace Lutheran Church in Fresh Meadows, was a chance for the contenders to introduce themselves.

The candidates for the 23rd District comprise a teacher, a former speech pathologist, a community activist, a real estate broker and a sitting councilman's former staffer.

"I've taught in public schools the last three years," Kerpen said. "Politicians talk about reforming schools, but they don't have the experience to know what's possible. I do."

Kerpen said he would work within the law to fight to preserve Klein Farm and he would be wary of taking donations from developers.

"I will not accept money from developers for my campaign as many Council people do," he said. "I will not let developers overbuild in our communities."

Nussbaum, a former speech pathologist in the city Department of Education, said her aim was to advocate for the district.

"I don't have an agenda for myself, I have an agenda for the community, and I would work for the City Council for the community," she said. "I also feel that City Council should be a primary job, that council members shouldn't have an additional job."

Friedrich is the president of the Glen Oaks Village co-op and stressed that thanks to that work, he was already familiar with issues in the district, such as traffic, parking and zoning.

"Measure the candidates by what they've done over time," he urged the audience.

He said after the meeting that he would be willing to sign a pledge with the other candidates not to challenge each other's signatures to get on the ballot, but he had not had a chance to ask them about it.

Bryan Rivera, a former staffer in City Councilman Tony Avella's (D-Bayside) office and 2009 mayoral hopeful, stressed his political experience and work for environmental consulting firm EnviroTrac.

"Given my unique combination of public and private sector experience, I'll work to make the community's concerns mine as well," he said. "You deserve someone who knows government, who knows the issues."

Singh, a real estate broker who has lived in the community for 21 years, also believes in service.

"In this country, it's what can you do for me; in my culture — I'm a practicing Sikh — it's what can I do for you?" he said.

Taylor, the first 24th District candidate of the evening, spoke about the need for housing in the area.

"We need affordable housing and low-income housing, but we need smart development — not overdevelopment," she said. "We need politicians who understand our discrete districts."

Gottlieb, a retired teacher who heads the Central Queens Historical Society and former aide to Weprin and disgraced state Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin (D-Flushing), said he was for transparency in government.

"I believe the legislative branch should have a review of expenditures, just as it does in Washington[, D.C.]," he said.

Simanowitz said he would build his office around community issues and service.

"It's important to constituents to feel heard. To a constituent, their pothole, their streetlight, their community is the most important issue," he said.

Of the eight candidates, so far only Friedrich, Kerpen and Simanowitz have filed campaign finance disclosures. The last deadline to do so was Jan. 15, and more are expected to do so by the next one on July 15.

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