Community activist Mike Duncan is the fifth person to throw his hat in the race for the 31st District City Council seat being vacated by James Sanders Jr. who officially won a bid for state Senate in November, after beating incumbent Shirley Huntley in September’s primary.
In a March special election to replace Sanders, Duncan — so far — faces opponents Jacques Leandre, a lawyer and founder of the Rosedale Jets Football Association; Earnest Flowers, who runs a communications and marketing firm; Selvena Brooks, a community activist; and Donovan Richards, Sanders’ chief of staff.
“I have been committed to the community for the last 17, 18 years,” Duncan said. “I have served the community in education as the chairperson of the PTA at Springfield Gardens High School and through a youth soccer program that I founded.”
Duncan is perhaps best known for leading the fight against a would- be hourly-rate or “hot sheet” motel, that was to be located across the street from the Springfield Gardens Education Complex, which houses four schools.
Duncan, a native of the country of Jamaica and father of four, is no stranger to the 31st District or to politics. He had worked as Sanders’ chief of staff before running against him in 2009 and losing.
Duncan is the founder and coach of the Rosedale Soccer Club, which has 305 members and serves young people from ages 5 to 23. He is a former restaurateur and plans to open a new Caribbean-style eatery on Merrick Boulevard by early next year. Presently, he works as a small-business accountant.
“I am very passionate about economic development,” Duncan said. “I don’t see people from the community owning businesses in the community. We need to encourage them to open businesses on our main thoroughfares. We have to create a feeling of belonging.”
Another concern for Duncan is crime, especially among youth. He believes there should be more programs like the soccer club he founded to not only keep kids busy after school, but to encourage them to exercise and live a healthy lifestyle.
“When I’m elected to the City Council, I will be taking residents with me to City Hall,” Duncan said metaphorically. “They will be involved in my decision processes and the framing of the budget.”
In line with educating the community on healthy eating, Duncan started a community food co-op in Oct. 2011, where residents purchase produce from organic farms in upstate New York. There are 75 participants and they share the fruits and vegetables.
“This community has a high rate of diabetes and hypertension. It is important to get people to start thinking about eating healthy and fresh,” Duncan said. “Then they may even want to start their own garden.”
Eventually, that will be the goal of the co-op members — to begin growing what they sell and maybe even opening up their own store.
Always a fixture in the community, Duncan, 49, has been working with area churches to collect and distribute food and clothing to Rockaway residents impacted by Hurricane Sandy. He is also creating a Christmas-in-the-Rockaways program, where he will work with businesses and residents to identify people in need and help grant their Christmas wish. He imagines that most of the recipients would be children, but he is not ruling out adults either. “It would please my heart,” Duncan said of the giveaway.
Duncan said he’s ready to hit the ground running, if elected, adding that people in the community already look to him as a leader and call him with issues that they have.
“Queens is a melting pot, and living here gives people the benefit of experiencing different cultures and different ways of life,” Duncan said. “I like that. We have urban areas and others that are like the suburbs. It’s a good place to raise a family.”