Never mind Waldo. Where’s Peter Koo?
That’s what his fellow candidates for the City Council District 20 seat want to know. They say Koo (D-Flushing) has been MIA throughout most of the campaign period.
Latest case in point was a candidate forum on Tuesday night.
According to Barbara Gonzalez, a Flushing resident who organized the event, the Democratic incumbent was invited to participate, along with his three third-party opponents, at the Marco LaGuardia Hotel on Northern Boulevard. While the others showed, Koo was nowhere to be found.
But the debate went on without the participation of the heavily Democratic district’s frontrunner, who was elected in 2009 as a Republican and later switched parties.
Fielding questions from moderator Kenneth Cohen, president of the Northeast Queens Branch of the NAACP, and members of the small audience were Evergreen Chou, an ultrasound technician running on the Green Party line; 40th Assembly District Democratic leader Martha Flores-Vazquez, running on the Independent line; and longtime activist Sunny Hahn, a Republican running on the Reform ticket.
Chou said he is running because “the two major parties have abandoned us. We need a people’s candidate. We need to give a third party candidate a chance.”
Hahn believes that “Flushing is preparing to become the global center of business and commerce. Many people will be pushed out of jobs, housing and schools. The next four years are very important.” Without “somebody who really cares,” she said the area will become “a Chinese and Korean ghetto.”
Flores-Vazquez complained that she has not seen services provided to everyone equally. “It is time to diversify.”
Recent accusations that security guards in some retail stores in the area single out particular customers led Flores-Vazquez to say, “We have a business community that’s not friendly to the public because of lack of trust. Just like the NYPD needs to be trained, the professional staff needs to be trained.”
Chou believes that profiling is wrong. He suggested the public “attack these businesses. Stage protests. Pressure the press.”
Hahn said the controversy is “one of the most difficult issues we face in the city.” While acknowledging that “criminal activity has to be controlled,” she said it is important to “protect human rights.”
In the struggling economy, Hahn would “like to help people afford any housing” they may choose, realizing such a goal will take time. She does not believe in pressuring developers to set aside a certain amount of units of affordable housing, but recommends that 10 percent of every new condominium complex should be set aside for affordable housing.
Flores-Vazquez wants more affordable housing, adding,“We have to help individuals on a sliding scale.”
Chou would like to see new housing be designated in equal thirds for “top of the line,” “middle class” and “lower income” residents.
Hahn sees a need to find space for new schools in the community. Flores-Vazquez “would build schools if there is a need.” Chou, who believes the charter school movement is destructive of the public school system, says co-location of schools “logistically doesn’t make sense.”
As the evening wound down, the candidates addressed Koo’s absence. Chou said any incumbent should speak to the constituency while Flores-Vazquez believes as an elected official he should go to any forum to which he’s invited.
Hahn called his absence an “absolute absurdity,” adding, “He should be here. He should be visible, engaged. Caring means showing up.” His failure to show up, she said, “jeopardizes the American political process.”
According to a press release from Hahn’s campaign, Koo also missed a forum hosted by the Auburndale Improvement Association two weeks ago.
Cohen said that Koo was the only candidate who failed to attend a forum co-hosted by the NAACP last week at the Flushing Library. According to Cohen, Koo’s campaign consultant Walter Chi “sent an email stating the councilman was attending a celebration for Bowne House in Manhattan” at the time.
James McClelland, another Koo campaign consultant, said on Wednesday that Koo had never received a formal invitation to any of the three forums. Another aide, Scarlette Cho, said he was unable to attend Tuesday’s event due to a multicultural community leaders’ rally at his campaign office at the same time.