BY TRONE DOWD
With an empty seat in the city council, Rochdale’s Hettie Powell, an attorney and activist from the island of Jamaica, is hoping to bring civic service back to the community following the recent conviction of Councilman Ruben Wills, who had been the representative for District 28.
In a recent sit-down interview with the Queens Tribune, Powell talked extensively about what she wants to see in the district that she hopes to represent and why she decided to insert herself into one of the most important races to come out of Southeast Queens in years.
According to Powell, her qualification for the seat stems from her more than 35 years in service to the community.
“I make sure that my community is taken care of,” she said.
As part of her work, she said that she has volunteered her time to Southeast Queens schools, such as PS 106, and educated students on numerous topics, including law, police interaction and antiviolence. She has also served on the Rochdale Village board of directors for more than 14 years; holds community workshops on immigration, job readiness and general public assistance initiatives; and works with residents in South Jamaica Houses who are facing tenant issues, such as repairs, by helping them get the help that they need in a program that she calls “Hettie On The Bench.”
Powell said that the first item on her agenda as councilwoman would be improvements to schools.
“Right now, the mayor is pushing to create community schools in other areas. Community schools right now get social services, mental health help and parental engagement….We want that kind of attention here,” she said.
She said she is not opposed to charter schools, but does not believe city investment in charter schools should be prioritized over public schools. She said co-location is something she hopes to avoid as councilwoman.
“If we take those funds and we put it towards public schools and make them better than they are, then there will be less of a need for these charter schools,” Powell explained.
As a resident, Powell said that she has worked closely with state Sen. James Sanders Jr. (D-South Ozone Park) on a number of community projects. Sanders has long had a reputation of independence from his Democratic colleagues on the city, state and federal levels. She said that she would categorize herself in a similar light.
Powell said that, as an elected official, one needs to “be able to step back” and make a choice that benefits constituents over party loyalty. She said that “as a leader, you have to have your own mind of where you want to go.”
Powell will face off against two challengers for the 28th Council District—Community Board 9 member Richard David and Community Board 12 chairwoman Adrienne Adams. The Democratic primary is on Sept. 12.