Candidates in the 31st District City Council race tackled tough questions about job creation, education and crime at a debate held Feb. 7 at St. Luke’s Church in Laurelton.
The event, sponsored by the Federated Blocks of Laurelton, was the second of its kind to be held before the Feb. 19 special election. The winner will fill the post vacated by James Sanders Jr. after he won a bid for state Senate, and will serve out the rest of his term, which ends on Dec. 31.
Only six of the nine candidates showed up — Saywalah Kesselly, Marie Adam-Ovide, Donovan Richards, Jacques Leandre, Mike Duncan and Selvena Brooks. The remaining hopefuls — Earnest Flowers, Pesach Osina and Allan Jennings — did not attend. The latter two did not attend the first debate on Feb. 5 either.
The candidates identified the key problems or needs of the community and how they would address them. They spoke about stop and frisk, a policy that all of them oppose. And they described the skills that make them best for the job.
Richards said the district is in desperate need of another police precinct, something the community has been fighting for for years, but has consistently been turned down due to a lack of funds. Leandre agreed that the 105th Precinct is overburdened and supports the addition of another precinct.
Marie Adam-Ovide added that she would like to see a return to community policing and Selvena Brooks said safety is a concern for her, especially with what she considers an inordinate amount of break-ins and thefts.
Another priority for several of the candidates is getting a community center so young people have a place to spend their time and avoid getting into trouble, but they had different ideas about how to go about getting one.
“We need to stop talking about building it from scratch,” Richards said. “We need to build on the infrastructure we have.” He suggested expanding the library on 225th Street so that it has two floors, the second of which could be used to house the youth center.
Similarly, Duncan said one can judge a community based on its children, so he suggested that schools should be turned into community centers after hours. In line with her party name — Rebuild Now — Brooks would like to invest in expanding after-school programs.
Adding parks and Green Streets and keeping boulevards and major roadways clean are among the ways Richards said he would improve the quality of life in the community and increase property values for homeowners.
For Leandre, providing senior services and programs is a priority.
“We have a population of elders that don’t want to fly down to Florida for their retirement,” Leandre said. “They want to have a dignified retirement, right here in New York.”
Kesselly said he would focus on education, economic empowerment and youth and senior services. To foster financial growth, he said the district needs its own credit union and community banks. Kesselly said that with an improved school system, there would be fewer incidents of violence and a greater chance that drug dealers and gang members would turn their lives around.
“There is no way you can have a failing school system and not expect to have crime and poverty,” he said. “Schools need to be listening and learning centers, and not just for academics, but for cultural education and other things.”
Adam-Ovide touted the need for smaller class sizes, summer programs, mentorship programs, internships and training for green jobs. She also wants an environmental center where children can learn science and technology.
All of the candidates who participated in the forum said they are against stop and frisk, and they also oppose the implementation of a new scanner being tested by the NYPD that can detect weapons from a distance, eliminating the need for an invasive patdown.
Richards said a better way to get guns off the streets would be to have more buyback programs. Adam-Ovide said the scanner still demonstrates an invasion of privacy — an issue even Police Commissioner Ray Kelly says concerns him. “Does it change anything?” she asked referring to the device. “Who are they going to scan? Is it going to be my 13-year-old son or my husband or someone else who looks like me?”
Kesselly said stop and frisk violates the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure. “It dehumanizes people,” he added. “It’s a human rights violation. It’s a civil rights violation. It should not be continued. The scanner is just a ploy to divert people’s attention away from the real issue.”
Leandre also called any use of the device unconstitutional. He said he has held numerous workshops to educate people about stop and frisk and what they should do when detained by the police. Leandre added that he encourages attendees at the classes to go to their area police precinct community council meeting to talk about being unfairly stopped. He said a better way to get weapons off the streets would be to put pressure on gun manufacturers.
Duncan said the only purpose of stop and frisk is to get more people into prisons. “They are going to do anything to incarcerate our children, instead of educate them,” Duncan said. He called on the community to be more supportive of young people and steer them in the right direction.
Brooks, meanwhile, cited statistics, which she said show that Queens and Brooklyn have among the highest rate citywide of young minorities being stopped, which puts communities at a disadvantage. “Now, they come to us and they say they want to scan. They’re putting us at another disadvantage,” Brooks said. “It’s another big brother tactic.”
The forum was a change of pace from the last debate, which focused largely on Leandre’s decision to file, and later drop, lawsuits contesting the ballot signatures of several of his opponents. Flowers was booted from the ballot by the Board of Elections over a technicality involving his party name. He is appealing the decision and vowed to continue on as a write-in candidate, if he can’t get back on the ballot.
All of the candidates have their own special skill set and experience that they would bring to the office if elected.
Richards is Sanders’ former chief of staff; Adam-Ovide is the district manager of Community Board 8; Jacques Leandre is a lawyer and founder of the Rosedale Jets Football Association; Duncan is a longtime community activist who also served as chief of staff for Sanders; Brooks is a public relations specialist; Flowers runs a communications and marketing firm; Osina is the community liaison for Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Far Rockaway); and Jennings is a former city councilman.