BY JON CRONIN
Cost of living, transportation and Fair constituent representation, were discussed during a Congressional District 7 Democratic primary contender debate at last week’s Woodhaven Residents Block Association meeting.
Jeff Kurzon was the only candidate to attend personally, incumbent Rep. Nydia Velasquez’s Community Coordinator Evelyn Cruz stood in for her and Yungman Lee’s Communications Director Michael Tobman was Lee’s representative.
Tobman was quick to point out that the only reason Kurzon was in the primary is because he forgot to send in the paperwork to challenge Kurzon’s petitions. “He’s only in the campaign because I f@#ed up,” and claimed that Kurzon did not have enough signatures for his petition.
Tobman said that in this diverse district, community leaders in Chinatown and Sunset Park met and decided on a candidate for this primary that would better serve their community. They believe that in the 24 years the congresswoman has been in office, she has not developed a relationship with the Chinese-American community.
He said he visited numerous civic associations, Community Education Councils and community boards throughout the 7th District and the feeling was the same. Tobman said one Woodhaven resident at a Community Board 9 meeting told him that he has been attending CB 9 meetings for 20 years and has never met Velasquez.
Tobman then moved on to his candidate Yungman Lee, an immigrant from China, he got his undergraduate degree from Columbia University, his law degree from NYU and later set up firm in Chinatown. Lee served as the First Superintendent of the New York State Banking Department from 1991 to 1994.
Lee also helped to grow the Charles Wang Community Health Center from a walk-in clinic to a primary care facility while serving as its executive director. He is currently President and CEO of Global Bank in Manhattan. Tobman also noted that Lee has made a career of turning around small banks into profitable ones.
He then stated that Velasquez brought back to her district the least amount of money than any other member of congress in New York.
Kurzon, a Manhattan lawyer and grassroots organizer also ran for congress in 2014, is running on a platform of campaign finance reform, “The whole system of money in politics basically favors these special interest groups and it goes completely against the interests of us as citizens,” Kurzon said. He pointed to families in Woodhaven converting basements to apartments for extra money and several generations living under one roof because the younger generation has too much student debt.
Cruz said her candidate believed she has more work to do in congress, to aid working families, environmental degradation and quality of life issues. “She has been very good,” advocating for the Sunset Park and Chinatown communities. She notes that Velasquez funds the clinic that Lee started and stood up for Army Private Danny Chen, a Chinatown resident who committed suicide after being hazed by his officers in Afghanistan in 2011. Cruz said her candidate fought for answers in that case.
She added that Velasquez campaigned for the reopening of the business corridors of Chinatown to reopen after the September 11 tragedy.
“What on Earth is a Chinese-American issue that isn’t an issue for everyone else in the country?” asked Vance Barbour, a WRBA member.
Tobman pointed out that she hasn’t worked with local chambers of commerce or other local organizations. He made the comparison of giving to the Metropolitan Museum of Art rather than to a local organization, but he agreed, “There is nothing that is a uniquely demographic issue other than these are communities that feel that they have been under represented by the long-time incumbent.” He then criticized Velasquez for not hiring a Chinese speaking employee until 2012.
Cruz retorted, stating that is incorrect to say that they just hired someone and contended they have always had Asians representatives, but many of them have moved on to other careers.
Kurzon said he will find either bi-or trilingual campaign staffers if he is elected and noted that he has the support of a Climate Science Master’s student at Stony Brook University who is fluent in Spanish and Chinese.
Alex Blenkinsopp, director of communications for the WRBA, asked if they could speak to what the candidates know about Woodhaven.
Kurzon said overcrowding and transportation are issues that concern him in this area. He noted that his commute to Woodhaven on the J train was noisy and had frequent stops. Kurzon said he would advocate to put the J underground. He also noted to continue advocating for a better healthcare system. “It is a more well functioning society when people don’t have trouble with access to healthcare,” he said.
Cruz noted that the community may have some dangers of further overcrowding due to the potential rezoning of East New York. She said Velasquez is fighting for residents to stay in their homes, small businesses to get tax rebates on their rent, and improve local infrastructure.
As each newcomer may be unfamiliar with the Select Bus Service issue in Woodhaven, the candidate and representatives were asked what they know about it.
Tobman admitted that he knew little, but that federal government should not just shake their hands of the funding for projects like this.
Kurzon, also admittedly unfamiliar, said that he does believe increased transportation is important and noted that it may be “disruptive in the short term” but not in the long.
Cruz said that Velasquez has expressed concern about SBS to the NYC Department of Transportation and want a better, more tranparent process for the project.
Reach Reporter Jon Cronin at (718) 357-7400 x125, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JonathanSCronin