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Can a Jewish candidate capitalize on a crowded field of black City Council hopefuls and win this month’s special election for southeast Queens’ vacant Council seat?
Pesach Osina, a staffer in state Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder’s (D-Rockaway Beach) office, is the only white candidate on the ballot for the Feb. 19 special election for the seat representing the mostly black neighborhoods of Rosedale, Laurelton and Springfield Gardens as well as the western end of the Rockaway peninsula.
There are nine black candidates in the race, and voters at a forum in South Jamaica Tuesday night wanted to know which, if any, of the six candidates present would step aside and rally behind a single candidate who could amass a unified voting block. Osina was not at the meeting.
“It’s established each one of you loves this community,” said Carl Clay, founder of the Black Spectrum Theatre. “How many of you are willing to drop out of this race so that there can be one individual from this community?”
Neither Marie Adam-Ovide, Selvena Brooks, Michael Duncan, Earnest Flowers, Saywalah Kesselly nor Jacques Leandre said they would step aside.
“Let’s be frank. With two weeks within E-Day, I don’t think it’s realistic,” Leandre said. “Yes, it sounds good that everyone should run ... but when there’s a candidate that represents only 17 percent of the whole district, that’s problematic.”
Leandre took heat for exacerbating the infighting when he sued six of his opponents earlier this month challenging their petitions to get on the ballot.
The move was criticized as either a callous ploy to get his opponents’ names kicked off the ballot or to drain their financial resources, but Leandre considered the tactic a badge of honor, arguing it demonstrated a procedural sophistication that would be an asset at City Hall.
“We’re in a fight,” he said. “You can’t send a pussycat to the jungle. You gotta send a lion.”
All of the lawsuits were either withdrawn or dismissed in court. Kesselly said divisions among groups such as Haitians and Jamaicans have long been exploited to the detriment of the larger community.
“There is an old African proverb that says, ‘When two elephants fight, the grass suffers,’” the Liberian native said. “There is a young Jewish guy who entered this race knowing fully well that this is exactly what is going to happen, and while we are all squabbling and fighting each other and all that, somebody is going to slip in and win the election.”
Kesselly and Flowers said should either of them place second and Osina wins the special election, they would consider not running again in September’s primary.
As far as where the candidates stood on the issues, Adam-Ovide said she would prioritize additional funding for the construction of the Idlewild nature center so the project would not have to be scaled back.
With other parts of the city cashing in on the technology boom, Brooks said she would work to establish a tech incubator in southeast Queens.
Duncan wants to allocate funding that would turn schools into community centers after classes and on the weekends.
Flowers said he would lay out benchmarks the community could follow on projects such as a youth center and a farmers market.
Kesselly would like to bring both a community-based credit union and bank to the district as well as a farmers co-op.
Leandre said he would focus on bringing a trade school to the district and legislation that would make the police commissioner an elected position rather than a mayoral appointee.
Former Councilman Allan Jennings and Donovan Richards, chief of staff to state Sen. James Sanders (D-Jamaica), did not attend the forum.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.
©2013 Community Newspaper Group
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