By Alexander Dworkowitz
The president of the Flushing branch of the NAACP accused the Queens Democratic Party of taking the black vote for granted and not seeking black candidates in northeast Queens.
“Flushing has definitely been under-represented by blacks,” Kenneth Cohen told a news conference last Thursday. “There was very little registration for our community.”
There were no blacks among the eight candidates, four of whom are Democrats, who were running for City Councilwoman Julia Harrison’s (D-Flushing) seat in Tuesday’s aborted primary.
Rev. Nicholas Tweed of the Macedonia African Methodist Episcopal Church in Flushing also attacked the Queens Democratic Party, saying it has stripped blacks from voter registration rolls.
“We are deeply concerned that the Queens Democratic club has deliberately been disengaging African-Americans from voting rolls,” he said.
The Queens Democratic party did not return phone calls for comment, but Councilman Archie Spigner (D-St. Albans) and state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) took issue with the NAACP’s charges.
Cohen and Tweed made their remarks at a meeting of black leaders of northeast Queens last Thursday at the Macedonia Church. Joseph Seawright, president of Holly Civics Association, and John Henry Byas, president of the African-American Citizen Forum, also attended.
Cohen said members of the Queens Democratic Party seemed unconcerned with the lack of black representation. “The majority do not respond to any letters we write,” he said. “Very few of the staff [of the candidates] have African-Americans.”
“African-Americans have been among the most loyal defenders of the party and have the least to show for it,” said Tweed.
As a result of their lack of political power, Tweed contended Flushing has not served the need of its black community. “There has been no affordable housing built in Flushing in the last 30, 40 years.”
According to the 2000 census, blacks comprise only 4 percent of the population covered by the Flushing council seat.
Tweed’s words did not sit well with all members of Queens’ black community.
“Reverend Tweed’s statement is outrageously ridiculous,” said City Councilman Archie Spigner (D-St. Albans), referring to the accusation that the Queens Democratic Party has stripped blacks from voter registration rolls.
“We all have gripes with the Democratic Party,” said Spigner, the deputy majority leader of the City Council, whose district covers part of predominantly black southeast Queens. “But we are not biologically Democrats. We are Democrats because they best represent our interests.”
In the three races for council seats in southeast Queens, 23 of the candidates are black, one is Hispanic and one is Indo-Guyanese.
Stavisky said she does not ignore the black population of Flushing.
“I personally don’t take my votes for granted, whether they are African-American, Asian or Jewish,” said Stavisky. Stavisky spoke with Tweed several weeks ago about the issue in what she called “a positive conversation.”
Stavisky pointed to Helen Marshall, who is running for the Queens borough presidency as a black candidate supported by the Queens Democratic Party.
“They are working hard on this for her,” she said. “The problem is that the African-American population has been declining. This has been a pattern that you see throughout Queens.”
Nevertheless, Stavisky does not think that there will be a dearth of black candidates in Flushing in the future.
“I think the cream will rise to the top,” she said. “Good people come forward. There are good African-American candidates. This was a strange year.”
Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.