BY TRONE DOWD
Just one week before the Sept. 12 primary election, City Council candidates in Southeast Queens dropped by the Majority Baptist Church in Jamaica for one final round to discuss the issues facing their communities. All Democratic candidates from City Council districts 27 and 28 were in attendance.
District 27 candidate Anthony Rivers and incumbent Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) debated the issues in their district, while Community Board 12 Chairwoman Adrienne Adams, attorney Hette Powell and community activist Richard David discussed District 28, which was formerly held Councilman Ruben Wills.
The hour-long debate highlighted the extent to which the candidates in District 28 agree on numerous issues. District 27 candidates, on the other hand, butted heads on a number of topics. Starting off on the topic of community policing, all five candidates agreed that current city Police Department policies should continue to evolve, but they what they have seen so far of the NYPD’s neighborhood policing program. Some candidates had their qualms with the amount of attention Southeast Queens gets from the police.
“We are over-policed,” Rivers said. “In our neighborhood, we get police precincts—on the north side of Queens, they get new schools.”
Rivers was referring to the long-awaited and newly-approved 116th Precinct, which was created to relieve the burden of the 105th Precinct, which covers a large area and has long been straining its resources. Rivers, a former NYPD lieutenant, said that communities of color—such as Southeast Queens—need to hold the police accountable and that no candidate is more knowledgeable on how to do that better than he does.
Miller agreed with his opponent and pointed out that Southeast Queens and other communities of color around the city have seen an uptick in marijuana-related arrests that target young residents.
David said that he wanted to see a focus on local hires and educating constituents and cops in District 28 to further nurture the relationship between the two. Adams said that Right to Know laws should be respected in all police encounters as it is a basic right that should be afforded to all.
On the topic of participatory budgeting, the candidates unanimously agreed on its importance for their respective districts. On the topic of school choice, however, the opinions varied.
Powell, a former teacher, has been adamant her entire campaign to prioritize the investment in public schools. David agreed and touted his experience in trying to better schools in his district through working with city agencies and non-profits. Adams said that she supported school choice for parents as long as the choices are located within the district. Rivers agreed with Powell, saying that money is not the solution to education, but rather investing time and energy into children, teachers and principals. Miller refuted Rivers’ claim that schools in District 28 are failing. He noted that not a single school in the district is failing and that many of them are being recognized at a national level.
In regards to housing the homeless in District 27, Miller stumbled over his words when discussing shelters in the district—an issue that Rivers has spent nearly two years protesting. Miller pointed out that he had backed legislation mandating transparency from city agencies when placing shelters in the area. He also said that he was happy with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s four-year plan to reduce shelters in Southeast Queens by 60 percent, while equalizing the burden across the city.
But Rivers was not as optimistic. He highlighted that prior to Miller’s efforts on the matter during the past few years, Community Board 12 had been looking for equity since December 2014.
“Since then, the number of supportive housing facilities has only gone up,” Rivers said. “No one is advocating or saying anything to the mayor about the disproportionate and unfair placement of these facilities our side of Queens in comparison to the north side of Queens.”
Upon being asked whether they would prioritize transitioning youths out of Rikers Island or tearing down politically incorrect statues, all three District 28 candidates said that they would choose the former.
In their closing statements, some of the candidates traded barbs. Powell threw shade at the universally backed Adams and warned the audience of voting for the candidate backed by the same political machine—the Queens County Democratic Party—that backed Wills, who was recently found guilty of corruption, is problematic.
Both Rivers and Miller said that they were the right person for the job, but not without throwing a few jabs. Rivers said that, as councilman, he would take legal action against the mayor if inequality continues in the district instead of “taking pictures with him.”
In his closing statements, Miller said that his “opponent does not have the temperament to lead the council district.” Both men received applause from the audience following their comments.