Candidates hoping to represent the City Council’s 27th District squared off last Wednesday evening at York College in Jamaica, revealing some interesting facts about themselves and the race’s dynamics.
Six Democrats, one Republican and one Independence Party hopeful are vying for the seat, which is currently occupied by Deputy Speaker Archie Spigner.
The 27th District includes St. Albans, Hollis, Cambria Heights and Queens Village, as well as parts of Jamaica and Addisleigh Park.
According to data from the Board of Elections, Democrats outnumber Republicans by nine to one in the area—virtually assuring that whoever wins the Democratic primary on September 11th will also win the general election in November.
Among the Democrats is Stephen Jackson of Hollis, an attorney who has worked as a legal advocate for Rev. Al Sharpton and other African-American leaders.
Jackson entered the race relatively late and is not participating in the Campaign Finance Board’s four-to-one matching funds program.
Announcing that his top priority in the council would be education, Jackson would improve the public schools by seeking salary increases for teachers. “We have got to do everything we can to attract competent and qualified teachers.”
Jackson added that he would seek to improve relations between the Police Department and the Southeast Queens community.
Asked what he would do if a local precinct would not allow a resident to register a criminal complaint, Jackson responded that he “would personally go to the precinct and remind them that they are obligated to respond.”
Helen Cooper-Gregory, a Democrat, has emerged as one of the frontrunners. Trained as a lawyer, she is president of the Macon Allen Black Bar Association of Queens and a member of the board of directors of the Queens Women’s Network. She lives in St. Albans.
Only two candidates in the 27th District race have actually received public funds; Cooper-Gregory is one of them. As of early August, she raised $25,783 and received a public matching funds check for $75,310, ranking her second in fundraising.
When it comes to education, she would work to attract talented educators to the public school system by opening lines of communication with graduating high school seniors and college students. “If we reach out to the young people, we can show them that the rewards will be coming for them in the field of teaching.”
Asked about downtown Jamaica, where many social services for substance abusers and the homeless are concentrated, she asserted that she would work to bring in city services that directly benefit the community. “There needs to be a balance of all services, not an overabundance of one type.”
Ishmael Morgan of St. Albans, a Republican, said that Southeast Queens has been “raped economically” and that he would work to revive local commercial zones that are “now like a war zone.”
Morgan works for Off-Track Betting and serves as president of the Foundation for Recovery and Economic Encouragement, a local development group.
Morgan raised $6,561 in contributions as of early August. Because he is running uncontested as a Republican, he is not eligible for matching funds until after the primary.
Morgan would work to improve education by setting up a scholarship fund for high school students to attend college. He also hopes to put more emphasis on crime prevention and treatment than incarceration.
“Instead of going to jail, we would send people to rehab five days a week,” he noted. “On Saturdays, they would do volunteer work in the community and go to church on Sundays.”
Saundra Pope of Jamaica, a Democrat, emphasized her credentials as president of the Rotary Club of Jamaica and as a community activist. She heads the Communication Action Group Against Toxic Dumping, an environmental task force.
To improve education, Pope developed what she terms “visionary schools,” which offer practical training to prepare young people for the business world.
Pope has not registered with CFB, saying that she believes public funds should not be used for political purposes.
Asked how to improve the community boards, Pope said that she would seek to appoint residents who have a track record of community service.
“The problem now is that many of the people on the boards are not familiar with the issues,” she said. “Then apathy sets in and nothing gets resolved.”
Erica Ford of St. Albans, a community activist who helped organize the Million Youth March in Harlem, cast herself as the anti-establishment Democratic candidate.
“What we need in the 27th District is a sense of democracy, to open the doors to the community. This district should not be run by Queens Boulevard or Forest Hills,” she said, referring to Borough Hall and the offices of the Queens County Democratic Organization.
Ford is not participating in the four-to-one public money match, relying instead on personal funds.
On education, she praised efforts by a Brooklyn high school principal to recruit teachers by talking to alumni and residents in the neighborhood.
“Teaching should be the highest paid profession, but the answer isn’t always just more money,” Ford asserted. “We have to encourage them to stay in the district and get parents involved.”
She again railed against current city and Democratic Party officials when asked about whether a parole office should be located in downtown Jamaica.
“Our children are not all criminals. We need to get services in the community that we need,” Ford cautioned. “We are always getting sold out by Forest Hills.”
Cynthia Jenkins, a former assemblywoman who is running on the Independence Party line, had similar words for Democratic Party officials.
Gesturing to fellow candidate Leroy Comrie, who has received the nomination of the Queens Democratic Party, Jenkins charged that his campaign treasurer objected to Jenkins’ petitions to knock her off the Democratic line.
“Southeast Queens is controlled by these so-called Democrats,” she said. “We have to start electing people who will represent the real people who live here.”
Jenkins, who lives in Jamaica, is not participating in the CFB’s matching funds program.
Jenkins asserted that her approach to education was radically different from those of her opponents in the District 27 race.
“School District 29 should hold its head in shame,” she said, referring to test scores and political wrangling in the Southeast Queens district. “We have to get the cops out of Andrew Jackson High School. We have got to save those black boys.”
Comrie deflected comments by Jenkins and Ford, saying that he is proud to have helped the community from the inside.
A Democrat, he resides in St. Albans and has served as Spigner’s chief of staff for the past seven years. He is also a member and former president of School Board 29.
“I have lived in Southeast Queens for 40 years and am proud of the work I have done as an advocate for the public,” he said. “From the inside, we have helped the district gain access to government.”
With $46,493 in contributions, as well as $71,388 in matching funds, Comrie is the fundraising frontrunner.
Asked about the role of community boards, he said that the current laws do not keep the community sufficiently informed about plans for development.
“The community boards need to be more professional and they need to more carefully review any zoning plans,” Comrie said.
Larry Smith of Rosedale, who is also a Democrat, works at the Human Resources Administration. He said that he would focus on quality of life issues in the 27th District by listening to the community.
“I would be there to serve, not to lead,” he asserted.
Smith said he would improve education by ensuring that funds earmarked for schools could not be touched for other purposes.
“We do have schools that work,” he said, pointing to PS 251 in Rosedale as an example. “The principal is dedicated and the teachers and children work hard.”
Smith has raised $5,630 in contributions but has not received matching funds from the city. He may still qualify for the final public four-to-one payout on September 7th if discrepancies are rectified.
Smith said that he would improve accountability at the Police Department by reminding officers of their obligations.
“If police don’t respond to complaints, I will remind them to do their job or lose their job,” he said. “As a government official, they would know that I am on top of the issues in the district.”