Things are getting ugly.
All the candidates competing for the District 28 City Council seat long held by the late Tom White Jr. have some personal or political baggage, and as of late they aren’t shy about hurling it at each other. All this mud slinging may amount to some tough decision making for voters when they go to the polls next week.
Ruben Wills owes $27,147 in back child support, according to state records. The candidate declined to speak about the issue, other than to say that he was “taking care of it,” and referred all other inquiries to his spokeswoman Lupe Todd.
According to Todd, Wills didn’t know he had a daughter until the child was 14 years old, so he didn’t pay child support during that time. He found out about his fatherhood when he was served with legal papers in 2003 informing him that the child’s mother was getting married.
Todd said the woman was required by the state to do that or else her new spouse would be recognized as the legal guardian of the child. Wills, suspecting that he could be the girl’s father, took a blood test to confirm his parental status.
There was an ongoing dispute between Wills and the mother because she would not allow him to meet his daughter or even to see a photograph of her, Todd said. Once he knew that he was a dad he provided support for his child, but in exchange he wanted visitation rights. Wills later went on to pay half his daughter’s college tuition.
Over time, Wills and his daughter, now 19, have slowly built a “fragile” relationship, according to Todd, one that Wills fears will crumble in the light of media scrutiny during his latest run for public office.
Todd also said that Wills actually only owes about $11,000 in support. He had been fighting the mother in court periodically because he didn’t believe it was fair that he should have to pay support for the time he didn’t know he had a child. When he stopped the legal fight the amount accrued over time to $27,147. Now, he has decided to pay what he owes because he doesn’t want to hurt his daughter emotionally.
“I am a God-fearing family man,” Wills says in a recent campaign mailer. “I love my family and I love our community. With respect to this issue, I ask for my privacy to be respected and my daughter allowed to live her life.”
Wills is no stranger to politics or controversy, having run against Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) in 2008 and then for White’s seat last year. It was during that race that he showed a different side of himself to the public when he allegedly tried to punch one opponent, former Councilman Allan Jennings, but missed, striking an aide.
Wills, a Democrat, is backed by many of the area’s political powerhouses including City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), state Sen. Shirley Huntley, former Councilman Archie Spigner, the leader of the Guy R. Brewer United Democratic Club and Assemblyman Bill Scarborough (D-Jamaica).
Scarborough, who is the chairman of the Council’s Committee on Children and Families, says that Wills’ qualifications as a leader outweigh his child support woes, which were caused by “extenuating circumstances.”
—He is the best candidate in the race – the one with the experience and the vigor to provide the services that the district needs,” Scarborough said.
Todd said that Wills would like to work with Scarborough in the future on policies that would make it easier for men to be notified when they are fathers and be granted visitation rights.
“I would be willing to talk to him about it, but it’s a diverse issue with many sides and it’s too complicated to be discussed during a campaign,” Scarborough said.
Comrie, a father of two, also remained unwavering in his support of Wills.
“It is emotionally difficult to find out that you have had a child kept from you for so many years,” Comrie said. “He wasn’t even listed on the birth certificate. The mother really did him a disservice by not telling him, but now that he knows, he is trying to meet his obligations.”
Also in the hot seat as of late is Albert Baldeo, who fired back earlier this month against claims that he listed “phantom donors” on his campaign filings. He says the errors occurred because a rival candidate, whom he would not name, “planted” workers in his campaign in an effort to smear him.
And it wouldn’t be the first time, Baldeo has said a rival was out to get him.
In a 2005 bid for White’s seat, competitor Robby Mahadeo accused Baldeo of brandishing a gun at his wife. The Ozone Park attorney was arrested, but the charges were later dropped.
“First, they said I was waving a camera, then it was a gun,” Baldeo recalled. “It was all a setup— a political hit job.”
Baldeo, who says he doesn’t even own a gun, was addressing a crowd of about 300 at Rochdale Village when the incident was alleged to have occurred. Baldeo said he could have taken legal action against the Mahadeos for filling false affidavits, but didn’t.
“They have two young kids, so I decided to exercise leadership and forgave them,” Baldeo said. “I didn’t want it to become a circus.”
Harpreet Toor has come under scrutiny because tax records show he lived outside the district. He also racked up $70,000 in debt.
In 1994, Toor helped his parents buy a home in East Meadow, LI. He decided to move in with them in 1999 because his wife had been diagnosed with breast cancer and he needed someone to help take care of her. The illness was also the reason for his massive debt.
“I did not have insurance and neither did my wife,” Toor said. “I needed to take care of her. It was important to me that she get the appropriate treatment. Were they able to save her? No. But would I do it again. Yes.”
Toor says he is slowly paying off the money he owes and moved back to Ozone Park last month, a neighborhood he had lived in for many years before East Meadow. He also said that he has always spent the majority of his time within the district, despite what his address may have been.
Nicole Paultre Bell, the fiancee of police shooting victim Sean Bell, also lives outside the district in Far Rockaway, but told the Chronicle last week that she plans to move back soon.
Ruben Wills also used to live outside the district in St. Albans, but moved into an apartment near Rochdale Village last week.
Candidates must live in the district by Election Day or they will be booted from the ballot.
Charles Bilal, an imam at Rikers Island, got into trouble over the summer when cops found a loaded pistol under the seat in his car. He said a youth gave him the weapon to turn in, but a city marshal towed Bilal’s car for unpaid tickets before he could get it to the precinct. Although Bilal is not authorized to carry a weapon, police did not arrest him.
Bilal also successfully filed for bankruptcy protection seven times since 2001, and owes $14,764 to the Campaign Finance Board from a 2005 race.
“Bankruptcy allows you to protect yourself from foreclosures, which are so bad in our community and I was a victim of one of those scams,” Bilal said. “That was a way for me to save my property.”
As for his debt to the CFB, Bilal says he’s working on paying it off.
Allan Jennings, who held the District 28 City Council seat from 2002 to 2006, owes $47,775 to the CFB according to the Post. Jennings’ past is also shaded by controversy.
In Spring 2005, the City Council found him guilty of “creating a hostile work environment” and fined him $5,000 after five women accused him of sexually touching them and making racist and intimidating remarks. Jennings did not respond to requests for comment regarding his latest run for office.