BY TRONE DOWD
The 5th Congressional District is the most crowded Queens primary this election season. Consisting of South and Southeast Queens as well as parts of Long Island, the district has needs as diverse as its constituents. U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) has been a fixture of the Queens political machine since taking office 20 years ago. Past elections have been an uphill battle for even the strongest challengers. In 2018 however, two active and passionate members of the community—Iraqi War veteran Carl Achille and community activist Mizan Choudhury—are stepping up to the plate in the hope of dethroning one of the borough’s most senior elected officials.
Lifelong District 5 resident Carl Achille is challenging Meeks in the Democratic primary this month. The 35-year-old Army veteran and NYPD detective of 10 years said that if elected this November, he wants to address both the homelessness crisis, which he says stems from opioid and drug addiction, as well as society’s negligence of war veterans.
“Our district is suffering and needs a lot of help,” he told the Queens Tribune. “At one point, we had the largest amount of veterans in the state of New York, right here in the 5th congressional district, and we need to take care of them.”
Second, Achille said that he wants to prioritize the environmental issues plaguing the Elmont area.
“There was a study that was conducted that showed the people living right on the eastern part of the district, Elmont and Valley Stream, have twice the national rate of cancer,” Achille said. “It’s a personal fight for me because, in 2016, my mom was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. Thank God she’s still here, but we need to get a handle on the various environmental issues that are plaguing our community and the entire district.”
He said he intends to pressure the Environmental Protection Agency to get to the bottom of the environmental issues that are plaguing one of the nation’s most affluent communities of color.
Another issue that Achille intends to tackle is cracking down on the “Iron Pipeline” that is responsible for bringing guns from out of state into the hands of residents in New York.
“These guns kill our kids in the streets,” he said. “Detective Brian Moore, who was killed in our district over in the 105th Precinct, was killed by one of these guns coming from out of state.”
Achille said that he also wants to see economic empowerment and development become a focus for the entire district and not just the Downtown Jamaica area.
“We look at areas like Far Rockaway that need reinvestment in transportation infrastructure and they’re not getting that,” he said. “In Elmont, we need economic development and jobs in this part of the district. We need to invest in education, especially in the western side of the district. I feel like if we do invest in our infrastructure, in our businesses, we can flourish, we can create jobs, put people to work and educate our kids and keep this safe. We can keep this community going. It’s a great, diverse and beautiful community and it deserves the best.”
Community Board 13 member, activist and self proclaimed “technologist” Mizan Choudhury hopes that if given the chance to serve the 5th Congressional District next year, he will bring a fresh sense of community and empowerment to voters, something that he says has been missing for years.
“I am running for office because the current congressman has been elected for far too long,” he said. “We have many issues, including jobs. We have nearly doubled the unemployment rate. Affordable housing is a big issue. We have had the current congressman for so long, 20 years, and he has become very disconnected from this community. I don’t even know if he knows what’s going on in the district.”
With more than 20 years in the tech industry, Choudhury said that working to bring the changing landscape of the working world to Queens and Long Island is a sure way to bring much needed opportunities to the community.
“I know that through tech, we can bring thousands of jobs to the district,” he said.
He said that the key is to bring a “technology park”—a vibrant mixture of Fortune 500 companies, local and international companies, higher educational institutions and more—to the district. Choudhury said that he also wants to bring vocational training to the district to help people learn a skill compatible with the new opportunities.
In addition to jobs, the candidate said that he intends to stay in touch with the needs of the community. He proposed holding town hall meetings regularly. Similar to Achille, Choudhury also said that he wants to focus on fixing environmental issues, especially in the Elmont area, where water contamination has turned deadly for many residents.
“I want to work with the EPA and make sure that they do whatever it takes to test the water and figure out a way to resolve this,” he said. “We live in the greatest country in the world. We lead the world, yet we are often too busy fixing other people’s issues when we have own problems right here in our backyard. Our congressman is too busy dealing with foreign affairs in countries like Venezuela, fixing other people’s problems, and he doesn’t have time to fix his own constituents’ problems. That’s a big issue for me.”
In a brief conversation with the Queens Tribune, Meeks discussed his time as congressman and what he sees as highlights of his tenure serving the community.
“The economic development that’s happening in Downtown Jamaica,” Meeks said. “The resiliency of the Rockaway Peninsula. We have come a long way from Sandy. [Recently], the Madelaine Chocolate Factory just got most of their employees back and are up and running. I’m proud of that. And, of course, standing up every day against some of the policies of our current administration. Making sure people have the right to have affordable healthcare, fighting the anti-immigration sentiment, sticking with our allies.”
Meeks said that despite being in the Democratic minority, he believes that he has been “standing strong and fighting on behalf of the constituency” that he represents.
Looking towards the future, Meeks said that he would focus on continuing the success stories of Southeast Queens in recent years.
“We have to finish what we’re doing,” he said. “Working with [the] Greater Jamaica [Development Corporation] to make sure that plan is going right, working collectively with the community to make sure that JFK Airport development means making sure individuals have opportunities, whether it’s a small business or large business. Working hard to make sure HUD does the right thing concerning public housing.”
Lastly, he mentioned keeping up the contributions that the immigrant community has brought to Queens and ensuring that they are counted in the upcoming 2020 census.
“I am honored to have represented the district,” he said. “It is one of the most diverse districts in all of America and I am honored my constituents allow me to represent them in Washington D.C. I work seven days a week and, most days, 10 to 12 hours. It’s a labor of love, though, and I am thankful for the people of the district.”
As a high ranking member of the House of Representatives Meeks is a senior member of the Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats as well as the House Committee on Financial Services. He is also a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.