Four potential candidates eye Jennings’ Council seat

By Michael Morton

He is not even the fourth choice, failing so far to gain notice and make a list of potential candidates that includes Yvonne Reddick, district manager of Jamaica's Community Board 12; Patrick Jenkins, district director for U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans); and Thomas White, who once held the seat but left because of term limits.Baldeo is not intimidated, however.”I think the voters should look beyond party connections,” said the first-time candidate, who has already raised more than $5,700 for the race but spent $4,150, according to city Campaign Finance Board records. “I'm not part of the old establishment. I can bring fresh ideas, new vigor and independent thoughts.”The other possible contenders have not filed with the Campaign Finance Board to date. Jennings' 28th Council District covers Richmond Hill, Ozone Park, South Jamaica and Jamaica, and the race for his seat is expected to be the only competitive Council contest in Queens. The incumbent has remained a controversial figure since first assuming office and has never enjoyed the backing of the party, which regards him as a pariah.”He's enough of an embarrassment already,” said Mike Reich, an executive with the county Democratic machine. “How are members of the district served properly?”Jennings could not be reached for comment.With White forced to leave office because of term limits in 2001, Jennings, then relatively unknown, beat the departing councilman's chief of staff, the party favorite, to take the seat. During his first term, he was removed from the Finance Committee because he opposed a compromise on a property tax hike and came under attack for releasing the names of undercover officers during a hearing for another committee. He also placed ads in two Chinese-language newspapers detailing his relationships with his former wife and another Asian woman.Jennings won re-election for a redistricted seat in 2003, narrowly beating Reddick in the Democratic primary.In his second term, he lost his seat on the Council's Civil Service and Labor Committee, faced a Campaign Finance Board lawsuit and became the focus of a hearing by the Standards and Ethics Committee into his allegedly improper behavior toward five women. Jennings also threw a piece of metal at a Fox 5 news reporter last month.If Jennings is found guilty of the Council allegations, he could be forced out of office. While observers find that an unlikely prospect, a spokesman for the city Board of Elections confirmed that the councilman could run again even if he was removed from office.Regardless of the outcome, the allegations could be a factor in the upcoming race.”He's been re-elected in some tough races before,” one Democratic insider said. “His constituents have forgiven him for a lot. Will they forgive him this time with these more serious allegations?”The insider said he did not know why voters stuck with Jennings in the past and could not gauge if they would do so again. “I don't know if anyone can figure out why,” he said of voters sticking with the politician.The three possible party candidates have not filed with the Campaign Finance Board nor officially declared they are running. Reddick and White, who now works at a drug treatment program in Jamaica, could not be reached for comment. Jenkins, who got knocked off the ballot in 2001, said he wanted to improve education and job opportunities. “I think I have good experience in building coalitions,” he said.Reich said the party would seek to field one candidate by the end of March. He had not heard of Baldeo.The Ozone Park lawyer, born in Guyana of Indian descent, said he had helped clients seek services and defend their rights but now wanted to do so on a larger scale. He and his brother have run a community center on Liberty Avenue for several months for the whole district, with Baldeo acting like a councilman to fill a perceived void.”My only objective is to empower the people,” he said, adding that he will run in September's Democratic primary. Before hopefuls become official candidates, they must collect a set number of valid signatures from registered district voters.The challenge for any candidate in the district, the Democratic insider said, was to reach across both sides of the Van Wyck Expressway, connecting a growing Indo-Guyanese community to the west with the older black community to the east. He noted the city's history of voting along ethnic lines, but said the party's candidates were well-respected and stopped short of calling Baldeo a possible spoiler.The lawyer said he has helped a wide range of clientele, from all races and both sides of the freeway.”I strongly believe I am that candidate,” he said.Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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