A full house was in attendants to here Queens candidates talk about their ability to leader. Photo by James Farrell.
BY TRONE DOWD
St. John’s students grilled Queens politicians for more than two-hours Monday night, questioning them on everything from political philosophies to how to best enact much needed change.
For those living in Southeast Queens, the session was an opportunity to not only meet some of the candidates they may have not have seen in the community, but to better get to know incumbents who don’t get the chance to express their political standings. During the Town Hall, two races were contested: The 14th Senate District, which will see incumbent Leroy Comrie face off against Republican challenger Jarret Freeman, and the 5th Congressional district which will see incumbent Rep. Greg Meeks face off against Republican challenger Michael O’Reilly.
14th Senate District
(Jamaica, Hollis, St. Albans, Cambria Heights, Laurelton, Queens Village, Briarwood, Jamaica Estates and Kew Gardens)
State Sen. Leroy Comrie
Comrie got his start in politics as a staffer to former city council member Archie Spigner. He successfully ran for City Council in 2002 becoming his mentor’s successor. Comrie served 12 years as a city legislator. In 2014, Comrie went head to head with former disgraced state senate member Malcolm Smith, defeating his opponent by a significant margin.
On The Issues
On Minimum Wage… Comrie said that he thinks it’s an issue that can’t be taken care of soon enough. “I voted in favor of the $15 dollar raise [of minimum wage],” he said. “I would hope that we get a senate majority that is Democrat so that we can work on putting in some of these policies in earlier.” Comrie said that he thinks it’s “ridiculous” that some parts of the state have to wait as late as 2022 before the increased minimum wage kicks in.
Immigration… Comrie believes that a thorough vetting of people coming into the country must be done. He also believes that a pathway to citizenship should be available, but should not be made easy. However, Comrie says that young people who retroactively find out that they are not citizens should be granted citizenship if they have proved to be a law abiding contributor to society.
Use of Drones in Law Enforcement.… “Every crime methodology that you can use to reduce crime is helpful,” he said. “I believe that we live in a transparent world where we all use cellphones and devices. The more tools that police have that can reduce crime in a less confrontational way should be applied.”
Fixing The Look of SEQ… “The problem with a lot of the storefronts [along Jamaica Avenue, Hillside Avenue and Union Turnpike] is that the landlords here are historical,” he said. “They won’t leave and they won’t sell. And they are no longer large enough to handle the types of businesses we can handle.” Comrie said that tax incentives that will push owners to embrace growth is the key to signaling change.
Challenger Jarret Freeman
Freeman, a rare Republican challenger in Southeast Queens told the room that he is running due to what he perceives as inefficient leadership in Albany on behalf of constituents. He pointed out that for many young people in the district such as himself, the slow rate at which they see needed change is worrisome.
Freeman is running on a platform of building and maintaining infrastructure, accessibility between himself and the community if elected, making it easier to become a business owner by reducing red tape and cleaning up the streets with neighborhood watch programs and working with police.
On the Issues
On Infrastructure… “Our infrastructure is extremely behind,” Freeman said. “Especially when you compare it to the rest of the city. DOT says that 30 percent of all of our roads in Queens are considered substandard. What are our elected officials doing?”
On the Homeless… “Only 30 percent of the homeless sheltered in our area are even from this area,” Freedman said. “We are housing people who are not even from here. When we look at hotels in our district, they are being used as homeless shelters. I am not against the homeless. But I am for treating people with the methods that they need to get the resources to survive.” He further explained that he would like to start a bipartisan commission to address these needs with homeless to help these individuals get back on their feet and clear out community shelters.
On Economic Development… Like his opponent, Freeman believes incentivizing business owners is key to ensuring Southeast Queens stays economically viable. He also believes in making it easier for young, new business owners to stay afloat as they start their ventures. “Economic development is on each one of us,” Freeman said to the room of college students. “We are all supposed to think. We have to invest in our young people in order for us to thrive.”
On Transportation… Freeman said that the main issue with addressing the transit woes of Southeast Queens is actually attempting to do something, which he believes his opponent has not done. “They are looking to raise bus fares again,” he said. “It’s ridiculous. I think that this is very hurtful for our middle class because they are not able to afford their commute especially when they already have to pay more because they live so far.” Freedman wants to look for opportunities for constituents to help protect their commuters economically.
5th Congressional District
(Cambria Heights, Hollis, Jamaica, Laurelton, Queens Village, Rosedale, Saint Albans, Springfield Gardens, Broad Channel, South Ozone Park, JFK Airport and Nassau County)
Rep. Gregory Meeks
As one of the longest standing Southeast Queens politicians still serving, Meeks prides himself on all he’s accomplished while serving in Congress. He currently serves as the Democratic member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and is a ranking member of the subcommittee of Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats in the Western Hemisphere. While he has his critics for traveling around the globe often, he has remained favorable amongst his peers on the city, state and federal levels.
On the Issues
On College Tuition… “If a family is making $120,000 or less, then it should be free,” Meeks said, noting that public institutions like CUNY were able to pull this off flawlessly decades ago. “This creates opportunities in education for a better America.”
On Attacks On The U.S… Meeks said that the best way to deal with foreign attacks on the U.S. is not tackling it alone . “We have to work with different countries and allies across the world,” he said. “It’s a global problem that needs strategic thinking.” He said that he is willing to criticize countries like Saudi Arabia when there are issues, but working together towards common peace takes priority.
On America’s Role In The World… “I believe we are the most powerful country in the world,” Meeks said. He explained that in that role we should not only use brute force to get our way but exhibit a willingness to negotiate, compromise and lead by example.
On Unfair Elections… “Are there some isolated problems in some individual races? Yes. But is it a systematic problem that can overtake a race? The answer is no,” Meeks said. He said that he takes issue with evidence of such actions obtained through Wikileaks because it only shows one side of the coin rather than a full picture of two combatting sides.
Challenger Michael O’Reilly
O’Reilly is another rare Southeast Queens challenger unhappy with the current leadership. The former pilot, attorney, U.S. Marine veteran and Florida Tech graduate said that his opponent has done a unsatisfactory job as congressman considering the allegations of corruption against him. In fact, he brought up that Meeks has consistently been voted the most corrupt congressman serving in Congress today by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. O’Reilly says that he believes the district deserves better and is confident that he can do a better job.
On the Issues
On Non-Profits… On non-profits… O’Reilly called himself a fiscal conservative, but said he does believe in financially supporting organizations that contribute good to society. “If they are legitimate non-profits, we need to keep them funded,” he said. “We need to keep the exemptions for people who are contributing to them.”
On Foreign Aid… O’Reilly said that he believes in decreasing monetary foreign aid. “We can’t afford it,” he said. “We’re borrowing money to support other countries. This isn’t sustainable.” He mentioned that the additional $10 trillion that was added to the federal budget over the last year was the reason for his stance.
On Improving The Election Process… O’Reilly believes that voting should never be based solely on party. “Don’t vote straight down the Democratic line. Don’t vote straight down the Republican line. Vote for the person, not for the party,” he said. “Use your head.” He admitted that he has voted for both Democrats and Republicans in the past.
On Budget Efficiency… As a self-proclaimed fiscal conservative, O’Reilly said that he sees several ways to make our spending more efficient. “There is so much waste and duplicity in the federal budget,” he said. “It is truly bloated and there are so many cuts that we can make.” He said that he believes in bringing education back to the local level to the state, principals, teachers and parents, simplifying the tax code and reducing the IRS.
33rd Assembly District
(Cambria Heights, Queens Village, Hollis, Bellerose and St. Albans)
For the seat formerly held by the late Barbara Clark, a three-way race is underway. Representing the democrats is former Chief of Staff to state Sen. James Sanders and attorney Clyde Vanel who won the competitive primary back in September. He will face off against NAACP Jamaica Chapter President Leroy Gadsden who is running under the new ideas party, and Goldy-Francios Wellington who is running on behalf of the republican party.