By Daniel Massey
In a move to show support for both a new business and a traditionally underrepresented ethnic group in his district, Councilman Allan Jennings (D-Jamaica) flew to Guyana last Thursday on Universal Airlines for a five-day tour of the South American nation.
Jennings boarded the flight at Kennedy Airport armed with a citation from City Hall honoring Universal Airlines, which has an office in Richmond Hill. The carrier, owned by two Guyanese sisters, launched its service to Guyana, with a stop in Trinidad and Tobago, Dec. 13.
“A new airline opened up and I wanted to support a business in my district,” said Jennings, who was sworn in last week as the councilman for District 28, which covers Richmond Hill, Jamaica and Rochdale Village. “The most important thing is economic vitality in the 28th Council District.”
The district is divided physically and ethnically by the Van Wyck Expressway, which separates Richmond Hill from Jamaica and Rochdale Village. Richmond Hill is home to a large Indo-Caribbean community, while blacks are the majority in Jamaica and Rochdale Village.
Many Indo-Caribbeans backed Trevor Rupnarain, an Indo-Guyanese, in the Democratic primary with the hope he would become the first member of their community elected to city government. But Jennings defeated Rupnarain, among others, and went on to win the general election to replace Councilman Thomas White (D-Jamaica).
Jennings said his trip was a way to show he will be listening to the needs of the district’s Indo-Guyanese, estimated by some community organizers to exceed 50,000.
“There is a significant Guyanese population in my district and during the campaign some felt they weren’t represented by their council member,” Jennings said. “They feared that if whoever got elected wasn’t from their community that they would continue to be neglected.”
Ralph Tamesh, treasurer of the Richmond Hill-based Indo-Caribbean Federation, said he hoped Jennings’ trip marked the beginning of a dialogue between elected officials and the borough’s Indo-Caribbean population.
“In the past I think the Guyanese community has been ignored,” he said. “This is a positive step for a guy who just got elected to fly down to Guyana. At least he’s making an effort to move into the Guyanese community. I’m hoping it stays that way.”
Jennings, who made the trip with his chief of staff, Colin Moore, was scheduled to meet with Bharrat Jagdeo, Guyana’s president. The councilman said they would “discuss what’s going on in Guyana and the needs of immigrants in this community.” Jennings said he was also scheduled to tour various parts of the South American country.
“I want to send a message to the people in the Guyanese community that they elected a council member who will listen to their needs and I hope this is a symbol of that,” he said.
Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.