Five prospective candidates will compete in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary for the 28th District seat held by City Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica). They are: Clifton Stanley Diaz, Michael Duvalle, Stephen Jones, Allan Jennings and the Rev. David Kayode.
Wills won the seat in a November 2010 special election held to replace the late City Councilman Thomas White Jr. who died earlier that year from cancer. The district includes the neighborhoods of Jamaica, Rochdale Village, Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park.
The first-term lawmaker was backed by many powerhouse southeast Queens Democrats including City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), state Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica) and Assemblywoman Vivian Cook (D-Jamaica).
He defeated six other candidates in the crowded race, including Nicole Paultre Bell, fiancee of police shooting victim Sean Bell, who came in second, and former City Councilman Allan Jennings, who held the seat from 2002 to 2006 and took fourth place.
If reelected, Wills will focus on foreclosure prevention, job creation and economic development as well as making sure that communities within the district are not overburdened by an excessive amount of homeless shelters, according to his spokeswoman Lupe Todd.
During his time in office, Wills has conducted several foreclosure workshops to assist residents and his staffers have even accompanied homeowners to court to help with paperwork and advocate on their behalf. He has also held numerous job fairs and continues to work with small business owners in an effort to keep employment within the district and help it “recycle its dollar.”
Wills supports “fair share” legislation, regulations that would limit the amount of homeless shelters within a given community. Todd noted that there are 14 such facilities in South Jamaica alone, more than any other community in the borough. While she stressed that the councilman is not against helping the homeless, it is unfair to expect some areas to shoulder more of the burden than others, she said.
Wills’ short time in office has been plagued with controversy. It was revealed that he owed child support for a daughter he claims he didn’t know he had until she was a teenager and he had two outstanding bench warrants for crimes dating back to 1996.
In one case, Wills was charged with criminal mischief, petit larceny and criminal trespass after he allegedly broke a wall and stole track lighting and a ceiling fan from a Chinatown client of the home improvement business he was running at the time. The judge has set the trial date for Oct. 4, weeks after the primary is to occur. In a second case on Long Island, Wills is charged with operating a home improvement business without a license.
“He has taken the necessary steps to remedy the situation and it did not happen while he was a sitting member of the City Council,” Todd said.
Asked about the child support issue, Todd stated, “He has personally answered to the people of his district,” adding, “His daughter is now 21 years old and their fragile relationship is on the upswing, so we are not going to comment on this anymore.”
According to the most recent Campaign Finance Board funding disclosures filed on Aug. 12, Wills had raised $111,550, Jennings has $53,508, Kayode raised $3,110, Diaz had $16,695, Jones collected $1,160 and Duvalle rounded out the list with $350.
However, both Kayode and Jones have spent more than they’ve raised with the former exceeding his earnings by $59 and the later going over by $490.
Calling himself “the education candidate” Mike Duvalle, a Guyanese immigrant, views himself as a role model, someone who came to this country in 1972 with $280 in his pocket, worked his way through college, enlisted in the military, and started his own business before running for political office. Duvalle has a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from SUNY Old Westbury and served in the Navy from 1981 to 1989, rising to the rank of lieutenant.
Duvalle operates a nonprofit construction company called Improve, Don’t Move. It is dedicated to helping low income homeowners repair their residences, in south Richmond Hill. He hopes to be a voice for the West Indian community, a group, he says has been overlooked by elected officials, including Wills.
The candidate said his first priority is to ensure the opening of a community center so that young people and seniors will have a place to spend their free time. He would also introduce legislation that would trigger an automatic tax decrease for homeowners when their dwelling falls below 30 percent of the market value.
“You don’t have to fight for your taxes to go up. Why should you have to fight for them to get lower?” he asked. “It’s not fair.”
Duvalle would also work to get rid of school zones because he believes parents should have more choices. “They shouldn’t have to send their kid to a failing school,” he said.
Duvalle is no stranger to politics. He has run for state Assembly multiple times. Most recently, he mounted an unsuccessful challenge to Michele Titus in 2006.
“We need someone with honesty and integrity to represent this community,” Duvalle said, adding that Wills’ character is “the bottom.”
“He can’t pay child support and take care of his family and he wants to run the district,” Duvalle said. “I don’t have that kind of baggage.”
Jennings also took issue with Wills’ past asserting that elected officials are supposed to be role models and stating that Wills is not setting a good example for the community, especially the youth.
Todd responded to the comments by saying, “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”
The former councilman, who now works as a real estate agent, said the primary issues he will address if elected are crime, education, jobs and economic development. He noted that during his time in office he gave millions in discretionary funds to ensure that students in grades three through six had laptop computers and implemented after-school programs at half the schools in the district. He also said he gave a significant amount of money to help seniors.
Another key aspect to revitalizing the community, according to Jennings, is economic development. In the past, he has reached out to businesses and invited them to open locations in the district touting the low crime rates, he says he helped make possible through his close relationship with the Police Department.
As a councilman, he met with the commanding officers at each of the precincts in the district at least once a week. Jennings said it helped to reduce community complaints of excessive force by the police, a problem he says residents have told him they are encountering again.
In order to create employment, Jennings held a job fair once a year at York College and invited 100 companies to attend. He said it helped many community members and is an initiative he plans to revive, if he is elected.
“The real Allan Jennings is a good American kid, who did everything right,” the former lawmaker said. “I went to high school and college. The police never brought me or my brother home from school. If they had, I would have just told them to take me to jail, because my mother would have killed me.”
Jennings is also seeking to clear up some of the unfavorable, and he says untrue, stories that have been published about him. For example, it has long been said that he took out newspaper ads professing his love for Asian women. Jennings says they were advertisements to promote racial harmony and that nowhere in the text did he say he loved Asian women.
Then there is the fact that he was censured by the City Council for sexually harassing staffers and creating a hostile work environment. Jennings said he fired two women for incompetence and that they took revenge against him by filing bogus charges of impropriety.
And of course, there is the video footage of Jennings throwing a metal object at a news reporter on live television. “I did that,” he said. “It was a mistake.” Jennings said it was all a misunderstanding, that the journalist had been misled into doing a “gotcha” piece on him based on information that was untrue, and that the two “made up,” afterwards and there are no hard feelings.
Kayode, an addiction counselor for the Department of Homeless Services and minister with Maranatha Baptist Church in Brooklyn, served as a volunteer aide to White during his last term in office. He believes his compassion for his fellow man and close connection to the community makes him the best candidate for the 28th District seat.
Kayode’s slogan for his City Council campaign is to be “a voice for the voiceless.” His priorities include education, job creation and tackling the foreclosure epidemic in southeast Queens.
“My campaign is going very well,” Kayode said Monday. “I have what it takes to do the job.”
In the area of unemployment, Kayode said providing training to community members and especially young people, is the best solution. He plans to educate residents about the resources available to them and hold job fairs, so that they can network with companies and find employment.
The married father of five has lived in South Jamaica for the last 17 years and is a member of Community Board 12. A strong proponent of education, Kayode has a bachelor’s degree in management from West Virginia University’s Institute of Technology and a master’s degree in educational administration and organizational development from Kean University in New Jersey.
Kayode considers himself a perfect example to demonstrate how a good education can lead to success and will use that as one of many tools to motivate youth to stay in school. All his children who are old enough to go to college went on to claim degrees.
But Kayode has experienced a problem with his campaign as of late. He said the Board of Elections threatened to invalidate 200 signatures he collected because the witness overseeing them listed her address as outside the district. He has taken the issue to court and was scheduled to appear there on Wednesday. Kayode said if he is thrown off the official ballot, he will continue his campaign as a write-in choice.
Diaz, the president of the Rochdale Village Civic Association, has also thrown his hat into the race. He tried to run for the 28th District seat in 2005 against Jennings, but did not gather enough signatures to get on the ballot.
Diaz has worked in the customer service department at the MTA since 1989 and is a graduate of the New York City College of Technology, according to his Facebook page. He did not return calls requesting an interview to discuss his goals, of elected.
Jones, worked as a security guard at Citi Field when he ran for the 28th District seat in 2009, but now reportedly works for the city’s Department of Sanitation. The last time around the candidate’s campaign focused on crime reduction, jobs, and abolishing mayoral control of the school system. He called himself a “Man of Vision, Man of Change,” but it wasn’t enough to secure a victory. Jones could not be reached for an interview.