With the race for borough president heating up, the candidates are making the rounds to different public forums hoping to get their ideas out to voters.
Five of the six candidates — Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), former Councilwoman Melinda Katz and Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), all vying for the Democratic nomination; Tony Arcabascio, the Republican candidate; and Seth Galinsky of the Socialist Workers Party — spoke to a mostly South Asian and Indo-Caribbean crowd at PS 69 in Jackson Heights on June 13, tackling issues that most affect that community. State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), also seeking the Democratic nod, was not present.
“The borough president role is an important one — her or his commitment to and understanding of the dynamic and diverse South Asian community will significantly impact our future,” said moderator Seema Agnani, executive director of Chhaya CDC, an advocacy organization. “Tonight’s event represents our community’s desire to have a borough president with whom we can partner to ensure a better Queens for all.”
She asked questions that greatly affect many members of the community, including promoting and the treatment of small businesses, the lack of ethnic diversity on the community boards, funding of nonprofit organizations and hate crimes and harassment.
Katz said the borough president is important to help raise funds, especially when it comes to nonprofits.
“I think it’s important not only that we raise money for these organizations but we make sure that the things that are necessary to the community are actually given,” she said.
Comrie touted his record of working with nonprofits and said he would devote some of the budget to such organizations.
“I will fight and make sure that 13 percent of the borough president’s budget or moreis going to the community and I will make sure the community has the opportunity to showcase their programs,” he said.”
Another topic brought up was the treatment of small businesses. Arcabascio, who ran a successful tech firm, said the local government shouldn’t tell businesses what to do.
“We don’t need City Council making rules and laws that prohibit us from running our businesses, like paid sick days and all these different rules,” he said. “The government doesn’t have to tell us to do that.”
Vallone, who was part of a three generation family-run law firm, boasted about his own record of being a friend to small businesses.
“I have a long record for fighting for small businesses, fighting against harassment, fighting against violations, against fines and fighting to allow our businesses to be busineses,” he said. “You don’t put small businesses out of business.”
Affordable housing and renting out basement apartments were other issues posed to the candidates. Arcabascio said he supports basement conversion as long as it doesn’t violate building codes.
When the candidates were asked their thoughts on racism and harassment directed toward Muslims, they all agreed that there should be zero tolerance for that behavior and punishment towards anyone who assaults anyone because of who they are.
Galinsky blamed the jailing of illegal immigrants as part of the reason why South Asians sometimes face harassment. “That is the source of discrimination,” he said. He said to quell racism that a strong organized movement around the world would have to be formed.
After the moderator finished her questions, the candidates took some questions from the audience.
Christine Rheem 20, who works in Flushing, asked a question regarding land use and what the candidates would do to make sure voices of the community are heard and not overshadowed by corporate interests.
Comrie said that no project would be approved without proof that the community had been consulted first from the beginning, saying he wants to make sure “community voices were first heard in any decision with the borough president’s office.”