Candidates Debate Before Primary
Candidates in the Democratic primary for the City Council's 31st District seat made their case for election to Bayswater voters during a forum at the Bayswater Jewish Center Monday night.
More than 100 people turned out to hear Marquez Claxton; Michael Duncan; Jacques Leandre; Fred Lewis; and the incumbent, James Sanders Jr., explain why they should be the Democratic nominee. They also answered questions from the public.
Each candidate pointed to his record of advocacy regarding various issues in the 31st District - Claxton on issues of violence and public safety; Leandre on zoning issues in Laurelton and working with youth; Lewis said he brought hope to the area; Duncan said he had spent 15 years of "fixing education" as a result of serving as PTA president at several schools on the mainland; and Sanders said he was running on his record, from helping to repave roads in Bayswater to giving money to schools, such as PS 104.
Here is a brief summary of the candidates' answers to some of the questions.
Currently, there is talk of rezoning part of The Arverne Urban Renewal area, which goes from Beach 32 to Beach 84 Street. The affected part would be redesignated from an R4 zoning to an R6, which would result in higher density building:
Claxton: "Before developers rezone and intrude on the quality of life, civics should be involved, and the community board as well. We should protect our homes and our community."
Lewis: "It should remain R4. No variance. We have to engage the community in whatever goes on in Rockaway."
Leandre: "R4 remains. No to the R6 variance proposed."
Sanders: "The area is being zoned for affordable housing for seniors." He continued that he was leaning to keeping things the way they are. "I don't want to cut out the community board, and I want to hear from my neighbors first." He also told his opponents throughout the evening that they did not understand this and several other issues.
Duncan: "No way is it good for the community. No way as councilman would I support it."
On the future of Rockaway Shopping Center:
Lewis said eminent domain should be used against the land's owner, Rita Stark. "It's time to say to Stark, we are taking your stuff and are going to rebuild."
Leandre said it was time to play hardball with Stark, but that eminent domain was not that easy. He added, "It's going to take a strong community to make Rita Stark give up the land or develop it immediately."
Sanders said to use eminent domain, money is needed and "you have to buy the property at fair market value."
Duncan told the crowd that change couldn't happen until "the people feel empowered again." He said, "Strong organization can accomplish all tasks."
On the issue of turning Beach Channel Drive, the main thoroughfare on the east end, back to four lanes - two in each direction - and moving the bike lane to the boardwalk:
Lewis said, "We need two lanes [each way] on Beach Channel Drive. I'm not sure I'd want to move the bike lane to the boardwalk because of safety. We have to make sure it is secure."
Sanders told the crowd that he didn't think it was appropriate for the bike lanes to be on Beach Channel Drive. "Perhaps they should have considered [a side street]." He was also hesitant to have bikes on the boardwalk because of safety issues.
Leandre felt it was ill conceived to put bike lanes on Beach Channel Drive in the first place and advocated a thorough traffic study to see what works and what doesn't work.
Claxton also called for further studies.
All the candidates said that the peninsula needed better transportation in the form of ferries, more express buses and better subways. They also called for fixing the subway stations to make them more handicapped accessible. Currently, the candidates say, the MTA is in violation of federal law.
The Bayswater Civic Association and the Frank Avenue Civic Association of Edgemere sponsored the candidates' night. Lou Grays, also a candidate for the Democratic nomination, was invited but did not attend.
The 31st Councilmanic District includes Far Rockaway, Arverne, Bayswater, Edgemere, Rosedale, Laurelton and Springfield Gardens. The primary is on Tuesday, September 15.