By Zach Patberg
Citing the need to restore “dignity and respect in the halls of government,” the former congressman when advised the community “to inform your family, friends and neighbors about the critical importance of a vote for Thomas White Jr.””Nothing less than our reputations and quality of life are at stake,” Flake added.The endorsement from one of the borough's most influential figures signaled yet another blow for the incumbent Jennings, who was censured for misconduct by his Council peers, is the target of a campaign finance suit, and has been sharply criticized by the Queens Democratic Party machine.Jennings has been elected to the Council for two terms without the backing of the Queens Democratic organization. His district covers Jamaica, Rochdale Village and Richmond Hill.White, himself a former councilman who carries the party's backing, has become one of the most formidable of at least five other opponents running against Jennings in the Sept. 13 primary.”It's a huge boost,” said Mike Reich, executive secretary of the Queens Democratic Party. “Rev. Flake has a tremendous following in that district.”White, however, has also been the criticized, particularly on the grounds that he had a poor attendance record as a councilman, choosing to focus more on the southeast Queens drug treatment program he founded.Still, Reich said this pales in comparison to Jennings' performance in office, which he called “an embarrassment.””Regardless of whether (White) made it to this meeting or that meeting, he's done more for redeveloping Jamaica than Jennings ever did,” Reich said.Jennings could not be reached for comment.After nearly 30 years as pastor of one the city's largest black churches, Flake has built a strong power base with national politicians from Bill Clinton to John Kerry making an effort to visit the Allen AME church at least once during their campaigns. As another testament to the clout he wields, Flake, upon retiring from an 11-year career in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1997, threw his weight behind Gregory Meeks, who became his successor.”I am particularly honored to receive the endorsement of Rev. Flake,” White said, “not only because he is a nationally known political and religious leader, but even more important, because he is symbolic of the extraordinary character and quality of the community.”Jennings' other opponents include Albert Baldeo, Dhanpaul Narine, Charles Bilal, Lawrence McClean and Bernice Lowery.Reach reporter Zach Patberg by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.