BY TRISHA SAKHUJA
Queens Borough President candidates highlighted their positions on key issues facing Queens surrounding the South Asian and Indo-Caribbean community on June 13 at PS 69 in Jackson Heights at a forum hosted by 14 organizations.
The forum stressed the need for a Borough President who can deliver the needs of the rapidly growing community, which has witnessed a growth rate of 159 percent in the past two decades.
The coalition comprises of organizations like Chhaya CDC, Adhikaar, Indo-Caribbean Alliance Inc., South Asian Youth Action, SEVA NYC, The Sikh Coalition, Taking Our Seat, Richmond Economic Development Council, Desis Rising Up and Moving, SACSS, Sheba USA, Turning Point, Women for Afghan Women and YCBA.
Director of Policy and Advocacy of United Neighborhood Houses and moderator of the forum, Annetta Seecharran began the evening by saying, “The Borough President’s role is an important one [because] his or her commitment and understanding of the dynamic and diverse South Asian community will significantly impact our future.”
Among the crowded list of BP candidates, five were in attendance, Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), Republican party hopeful Tony Arcabascio, Socialist Worker’s party hopeful Seth Galinsky and former Councilwoman Melinda Katz. State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) could not make it on time.
Seecharran asked the candidates to elaborate on how they would make sure the Community Boards will be more representative of the community, specifically with more South Asians on the Boards. On a general consensus, all of the candidates understand the Community Boards need to do more to ensure all voices are heard and to make sure they all have access to government.
“As Borough President, we have to sit down with the senior members of the boards to understand how they got on and how long they have been on the board,” said Arcabascio.
The next question focused on the difficulties small businesses face in terms of high rent and lack of resources. The moderator asked what measures they would take as Borough President to alleviate some of those burdens and help the small business community thrive.
“You need someone to understand the issues and the laws that hurt small businesses,” said Katz, who wants to see an entire tech based industry foster in Long Island City.
“Street vendors always face tremendous harassment by the police and that is one thing I am going to fight for,” said Galinsky.
Comrie spoke about having regular sessions at the Borough President’s office that would help small businesses speak about their concerns and the kinds of resources they need.
“Councilman Vallone and I recently helped pass a bill that would not give violations to small businesses on the first visit, but instead give them a warning because business owners are not concerned about small tickets, but instead, they are trying to grow their businesses,” he added.
On the topic of foreclosures, housing and rental basements, all of the candidates agreed that house owners should be allowed within a set of safety regulations to rent their basement for an extra income.
“The main thing for home owners is try to keep their taxes down because it has gone up by 60 percent,” said Vallone. “We should also be able to make a little income on our basements or leave it for my grandparents and kids to live in.”
Seecharran asked what the candidates would do to facilitate the reduction of hate crimes amongst the South Asian community, specifically Muslims.
Comrie said he will work the police department to make sure they have a direct line of contact with the community leaders and the organizations of the South Asian community.
Vallone spoke about the importance of building “One Queens” and his long record of prosecuting crimes and keeping our community safe.
Katz said she was a key sponsor in the Hate Crimes legislation in Albany and would organize a monthly forum that would allow various communities to speak about the tensions arising in their communities.
Reach Reporter Trisha Sakhuja at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.