2001-11-03 / Front Page

The Battle For District 31: Remaining City Council Candidates Fight for Undecided Votes

By Gary G. Toms

The Battle For District 31:
Remaining City Council Candidates
Fight for Undecided Votes
By Gary G. Toms

With Election Day fast approaching, a number of voters are still undecided as to who they will choose to represent them in the City Council race in the 31st District. As a result, The Wave has interviewed, at various times, four of the five candidates running for the seat in effort to present their views on certain issues.

For the sake of clarity and brevity, we have formatted those interviews as if they were done in a debate format, but the participants did not take part in an actual debate. They were done separate and apart from each other.

The four candidates being featured are James Sanders, Jr. (Democratic Party), Everly D. Brown (Republican Party), Edward J. Lewis (Liberal Party), and Rosalind O’Neal (Independence Party). Efforts were made to include Francisco Pena (Green Party) into this segment, but our attempts to reach him by press time were unsuccessful.

The majority of the questions were asked of all four candidates, but there are specific questions that were asked of only one candidate. The interviews were conducted by Managing Editor Howard Schwach and Associate Editor Gary G. Toms.

Wave: Please state your position on economic development in the Rockaways.

Sanders: We need to train people how to run their own businesses; obtain financing for their businesses; and we should focus on development capacity of the community and work to make sure that everyone has a chance to prosper economically.

Brown: Rockaway needs intensive job training. If you focus on providing people with skills, it will allow for greater economic prosperity in Rockaway. We have to give people the tools necessary to get jobs.

Lewis: We need to work with major organizations and big business in the area in order to create economic growth and jobs. We need to start with the development of the Far Rockaway Mall. The area should be condemned and taken over so that reconstruction of the mall can begin, which would provide jobs.

O’Neal: Rockaway definitely needs economic development. There are a number of ways this can be done, and it should not take five or ten years to do it. Stimulating business growth and job training play a key role in the economic development of Rockaway. You’re paying taxes; you should have the best in terms of goods and services.

Wave: Transportation is an issue of major concern in Rockaway. Do you have a plan in place to address it?

Sanders: Well, I support a ferry service to Rockaway, and the city must put up a certain amount of funding to make it happen. Train and bus service is horrendous, and the City Council has failed to hold the Department of Transportation accountable for the conditions that exist on the peninsula. It certainly doesn’t help matters when some of the transportation agencies are providing contributions to some of my opponents. I’m sick of the state of transportation in Rockaway, and these things will not continue to happen on my watch.

Brown: I support the use of commuter vans along the peninsula and free competition. They found a way to make it work in areas of Jamaica, Queens, and it could work in Rockaway as well. I think subways and buses need to run more frequently, and the service has to be consistent. I think the idea of a ferry is a good one, but I would have to look more into it.

Lewis: I’m in favor of a ferry service to Manhattan, and I would work hard to make it a reality. I would also withhold subsidies to Jamaica and Green Bus Lines until the service has greatly improved.

O’Neal: I have often traveled between Jamaica and Rockaway, and I can tell you first hand that the service is poor and inconsistent. I would work to correct this by making sure the agencies provide frequent service on a regular basis.

Wave: Crime has a stronghold on a many of our young Black and Latino men in the Far Rockaway community. What will do as a council member to combat this problem?

Sanders: We have to do three things to combat the crime situation in Rockaway. The first is creating economic opportunities for our youth so they don’t get involved with crime in the first place. Next, we have to create facilities that will keep them occupied and off the streets. Workshops and recreational facilities would make a tremendous difference in helping to reduce crime. Finally, we should strictly enforce certain laws. We have to make people realize that if you do the crime, you’re going to do the time.

Brown: People need to be educated. Most of these kids are not educated correctly about the consequences they face if they engage in a life of crime. They have no understanding of the situation. Once they learn and realize the severity of prison life and lost opportunity, they will be much better off. Another key element in dissolving crime in the community is to bring in cops who understand the community to work in the community. As the council representative, I would get together for a monthly forum with these kids and show them the importance of being a respectable person. My whole purpose would be to show them that crime does not pay.

Lewis: We need to build facilities that will provide positive outlets for these kids. My mobile home will allow me the opportunity to get out and meet with young people on a regular basis. I would work to establish apprenticeship programs for the youth of Rockaway. By having the endorsement of the Theatrical Workers and Stagehands Union, I have established a relationship with them where they would help me to provide opportunities for these kids. Mentoring programs and the monitoring of special organizations set in place to help our youth would be crucial in my role as Councilman.

O’Neal: The problem is, as a community, we have let our kids fall through the cracks of the system. We need to present more opportunities for our young people in Rockaway. The other part of the problem is that you have a police state in the Rockaways. Kids cannot function in a society where they are always treated or viewed as criminals. We have to correct this, and we have to provide them with more chances to succeed.

Wave: What are some of your proposed plans for the educational system in Rockaway?

Sanders: The funny thing about a few of the candidates that are running is that they have never even voted in school board election, but they have the audacity to attack someone that has spent 10 years trying to get the system to work. To handle the education issue, I would work to reduce class size; repair the infrastructure of the schools; and make sure teachers are paid a wage that is decent and comparable to those outside of the city.

Brown: We are failing our kids. Why? It’s because many of the teachers in our schools are not qualified to teach our kids. Too many teachers are allowed to infiltrate the Board of Education, and there are no real safeguards in place to prevent to poor teachers from being weeded out. Overcrowded classrooms are another serious problem within the education system. I would work very hard to find a way to reduce class size and get rid of bad teachers. My opponent, James Sanders, Jr., has been affiliated with the school board for the last 10 years, and he has failed. How can he be expected to be a good council representative, if he can’t even perform as vice-president of the Community School Board for this district?

Lewis: The Rockaways should be declared a crisis area so we could obtain the funding necessary to help improve the schools. The Board of Ed should be abolished, and the schools should run under the guidelines of community control, which be overseen by an Education Commissioner. The money that was being given to the local school boards would go directly to teachers, and any leftover monies would be allocated to the classroom.

O’Neal: This is one area that I am well versed in. I was a teacher for 34 years. I chaired the school leadership team at Springfield High School, and I currently teach dance at the same school. What we have to do to get a handle on the education system is decentralize the schools. We have break them down in such a way that control is placed in the hands of parents, teachers and school administrators. This is the only way you will be able to put a stop to the problems with the Board of Education. Also, the funding received for schools must be accounted for. Too much money has been mismanaged or misplaced. I am also in favor of keeping the NYPD out of the school system, and I would like to develop a proposal where free tuition would be available within the CUNY system. As far as vouchers go, I am not in favor of them.

Wave: What would you like to see developed in the Arverne Urban Renewal Area?

Sanders: I propose mixed uses for the area. I want both high and low-income residents to be able to take advantage of the site. There should be a combination of high-level and affordable housing. That may not sit well with people, but it’s the truth. We have to work to insure that as many people as possible have a decent place to live. I think working with organizations like Habitat for Humanity would be a viable way of meeting the needs of lower income people. I would also love to see a park, transportation system, film production studios and small businesses constructed in the area.

Brown: I would be in favor of constructing affordable housing and the implementation of small businesses in the area. However, for that to happen, we should consider changing certain zones because the true numbers do not reflect the needs of the community when it comes to zoning. If elected, I will implement a plan to change the zoning in Rockaway in only two years.

Lewis: I would bring in investors and hotel developers, and I would only entertain the idea of casinos if the community really wanted them here. Otherwise, I think the focus should be placed on hotel development for that area.

O’Neal: I’m not very familiar with the area, but based on what I do know, I think it would be a good idea to use it to develop jobs training facilities and affordable housing. I also think that before any casinos are brought in, a community meeting should take place. Nothing should be done with the consent of the residents of Rockaway.

The candidates have stated their positions, now it’s up to you. This election is one of the most important elections you will ever take part in. The future of Rockaway is at stake. On November 6, make sure you get to the polls because despite what you think, your vote will count.

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