The sound of African drums filled the air as Empress Idama performed a traditional dance. It was an energetic number to start off the inaugural festivities for state Sen. James Sanders Jr. (D-Jamaica) last Thursday at York College in Jamaica.
But Idama’s group, which featured her son, Fatari Huntley, and Sanders’ brother Raphael, wasn’t the only entertainment. There was much prayer and singing as well as various speeches, all honoring the lawmaker, who calls himself the people’s senator.
Sanders was surrounded by family members including his dad, James Sanders Sr., when he took the oath administered by Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) in front of a crowd of about 200 people in the Academic Core Building at York.
There were plenty of dignitaries in attendance including former City Councilman Archie Spigner, Assemblywoman Michelle Titus (D-Jamaica), state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis), City Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) and state Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria).
“James Sanders has been an outstanding member of the City Council, and I predict that he will be a great New York state senator,” Spigner said. “The people of the 10th Senatorial District will be well served. He is a hard worker. He is aggressive. He’s intelligent and he’s a people person. He’s a nice guy. I wish him success and I anticipate that we will have other occasions to celebrate his accomplishments.”
Sanders, a former three-term city councilman, triumphed over incumbent Shirley Huntley to claim his new Senate seat. He took over 57 percent of the vote to her 40 percent in the primary he forced last September. Sanders’ old seat will remain vacant until a special election is held on Feb. 19 to select a replacement, who will serve out the rest of the term, which ends on Dec. 31.
“If you believe you hired me to be mild and quiet, you voted wrong,” Sanders said, adding, “We are going to focus on economic development. We are going to push ways of making sure that everybody has a chance, and there is one America — not simply for the rich, but for working people, middle-class people and the working poor.”