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SE Queens council candidates spar at second forum

Saywalah Kesselly, Marie Adam-Ovide, Donovan Richards, Jacques Leandre, Mike Duncan and Selvena Brooks are contending for southeast Queens' vacant City Council seat. Photo by Rich Bockmann
TimesLedger Newspapers

Donovan Richards did not make it to the first candidates forum for Tuesday’s special election in southeast Queens, but at a second meeting last week a few of the other City Council hopefuls let him know he was missed.

Marie Adam-Ovide, Selvena Brooks, Mike Duncan, Saywalah Kesselly and Jacques Leandre spent the first forum trying to distinguish themselves from a crowded field to fill the seat vacated by James Sanders in late December when he ascended to the state Senate.

But the second night provided the opportunity to go head-on at Richards, who with a bevy of union endorsements, a sizeable fund-raising advantage and the backing of Sanders appears to be the front-runner in the race.

“There has not been anything that has happened in the past 10 years in the Council office that my fingerprint has not been on,” Richards said. “I not only worked for Councilman Sanders, I worked along with him.”

Richards has campaigned on his experience in the former councilman’s office, but a number of his opponents question if that was a good thing and how much of Sanders’ accomplishments he could take credit for.

“The issues we are facing in this district are going to require some innovation, some ingenuity,” said Leandre, whose supporters have come out in strong numbers at both forums. “It’s going to require someone who’s actually removed from the process to solve some of the recurrent problems.”

Leandre took a direct shot at Richards on the issue of school funding.

Richards proudly announced that Sanders’ office had allocated $50,000 to every school in the Council district each year. Leandre, seemingly thinking on his feet, said the practice was misguided and he would assess the need of each individual school, doling out more dollars to the schools that need them the most.

“Each school can’t get $50,000,” he said. “But I think it looks good when every school gets 50,000 and you get to take a picture with the check.”

Feeling the heat, Richards singled out Leandre, who has never worked in city government.

“Jacques said you have the opportunity to send him [to the Council]. He’s not battle-tested. I am battle-tested,” he said.

Kesselly also criticized Richards, suggesting he was taking credit for Sanders’ work.

One of the biggest issues during Sanders’ tenure was the development of an unpopular motel in Springfield Gardens. Both Richards and Duncan took credit for the project’s ultimate demise.

“The hot sheet motel, you will hear a lot of people trying to take credit for it,” Duncan said, looking toward Richards. “You know who.”

Hosted by the Federated Blocks of Laurelton, the forum provided an opportunity for the candidates to address issues specific to the neighborhood ahead of the Feb. 19 non-partisan special election in which the candidates are not identified by political party.

Brooks said she would focus on break-ins and phone scams targeting the elderly, while Adam-Ovide said she would address safety issues on Brookville Boulevard, otherwise known as Snake Road.

Kesselly said a credit union and community banks would help with economic development and Duncan championed the issue of after-school programs.

Neither Allan Jennings nor Pesach Osina, both of whom are on the ballot, attended either of the two forums.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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