Just after 10:30 p.m., a campaign office in Rochdale Village erupted in applause and chants of “Ruben, Ruben,” as City Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) claimed victory in the 28th District Democratic Primary, easily defeating three other contenders with 67 percent of the vote and effectively winning the election in the deeply blue community.
The lawmaker was surrounded by friends, family, supporters and several fellow elected officials, whom he thanked for helping him ensure victory in a race that at times got ugly due to the bad blood between Wills and opponent Allan Jennings, who had held the seat from 2002 to 2006.
“I just want to thank everybody,” Wills said. “We started off the day with prayer. We want to make sure we end the day with prayer. I want to thank everybody out there that remained cool. Everybody understood that we were representing the whole entire community. ... We are going to do a lot of work going forward.”
Wills initially 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.
Wills garnered 2,810 votes, according to preliminary unofficial campaign results, followed by Jennings with 714, Mike Duvalle with 461 and Clifton Stanley Diaz with 237.
“Ruben has been doing the right thing since he was elected,” said City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans). “He has been an effective legislator. He’s been able to bring back resources for the district. He’s made real collaborations for different parts of the district. He’s earned independently the respect of the other members in the council and people around the city.”
Former City Councilman Archie Spigner, leader of the Guy R. Brewer United Democratic Club, expressed similar sentiments.
“Of all of the candidates out in the field, Ruben is clearly the best,” Spigner said. “He’s been doing a good job in the short time that he’s been in the council and he has given us every reason to support his re-election.”
It may have been a landslide victory, but Wills’ short time in office has been plagued by 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. That provided ample ammunition for Jennings to bash Wills publicly, according to the lawmaker’s spokeswoman, Lupe Todd.
“It’s just more of the same,” Comrie said of Jennings. “Desperate attempts by a desperate person.”
On Tuesday morning, outside August Martin High School where Wills had gone to vote, he noticed Jennings loitering in the area, according to Todd. Joined by his wife, Marcia, and daughter, Jolisa, he decided to confront Jennings regarding his alleged negative campaigning.
“He said, ‘This is my daughter. Do you want to apologize?’” Todd recounted. But Jennings did not respond. Then Jolisa told Jennings, “I’m 21 years old. I’m not a child,” according to Todd. Eventually, Jennings got in his car and drove away, but not before Wills said, “We are going to drive you out of this community,” meaning that he would lose the election, Todd said.
“I feel really good that the negative campaigning by the other side is over. It was really horrible,” Marcia Wills said. “I am so happy because he deserves to be in office again. He really helps the community.”
The hostility, however, was still apparent at Wills’ campaign office, where Jennings-related materials were pasted beneath a sign that read “The Idiot Wall.”