By Betsy Scheinbart
Democrat James Sanders defeated four others to win the race for City Councilwoman Juanita Watkins’ (D-Laurelton) seat Tuesday.
In one of the most crowded contests in the borough, Sanders captured 86 percent of the vote to beat Republican Everly Brown, Independence Party candidate Rosalind O’Neal, Liberal Party contender Edward Lewis and Green Party nominee Francisco Pena with 88 percent of the precincts reporting, according to unofficial results.
Brown, a developer, investor and a financial consultant from Rosedale, got 10 percent of the vote; O’Neal, a Springfield Gardens HS teacher and Laurelton resident, secured 2 percent and Pena, an educator who lives in South Ozone Park, received 1 percent of the vote.
Lewis, an assistant commissioner with the city Department of Parks & Recreation and South Jamaica resident, got 1 percent of the vote. Lewis also participated in the Democratic primary, earning 9 percent of the vote in that contest.
“We were blessed to have been endorsed and ratified by the people of the 31st District,” Brown said. “In the days to come I will need their prayers and their support to help lead our district in the 21st century.”
Sanders, a resident of Arverne, was the only candidate from the Rockaways competing in a district that stretches from Far Rockaway and Arverne to Cambria Heights and Laurelton. About one third of the district is on the Rockaway peninsula.
“I am hopelessly in debt to the voters on the ‘mainland’ that did not let simple geography dictate their choice for city council but instead chose greatness over geography,” Sanders said of the southeast Queens voters.
Sanders works for a small non-profit organization, Forward Motion, which uses a network of 16 churches to help people get off welfare. He helped found People United for Local Leadership, a micro-economic development corporation and served as former U.S. Rep. Floyd Flake’s (D-St. Albans) assistant district manager.
The overriding issue in the southeast Queens race was education and many of the candidates work in jobs related to the field. Sanders is the vice president of School Board 27, which covers the Rockaway peninsula, Ozone Park and Woodhaven.
The 31st Council District also covers a large portion of troubled School District 29, which is beginning its third school year without a permanent superintendent and has been at odds with Schools Chancellor Harold Levy over finding a new chief.
Sanders said improving education in District 27 and District 29 would be a fundamental element of his job. Economic development, quality of life and flooding problems as well as youth and senior services also topped his list of priorities for the district.
Sanders was planning to celebrate his victory with a party Thursday, Nov. 8, at Arianna’s at 162-3A Cross Bay Blvd. in Howard Beach, starting at 8 p.m. For more information, call his campaign office at 471-7014.
Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 138.