Questions for aspiring Councilmembers

If the turnout at the fourth District Council 25 candidate forum is any indication, the district’s primary election could be one of the most exciting in the borough.

As the available chairs quickly disappeared, a crowd packed into the Diversity Center of Queens to hear the four candidates – Daniel Dromm, Stanley Kalathara, Alfonso Quiroz and incumbent Councilmember Helen Sears – respond to questions prepared by community organizations.

The first set of questions came from the Queens Community House, which provides youth development programs, touched upon the proposed budget cuts to after-school and leadership development programs for youth, language access in city agencies and non-citizen voting rights.

Kalathara, a local real estate agent and lawyer, responded that he would give seven percent of his income in the City Council to student programs, that he agreed with the non-citizen voting legislation and that English classes needed to be a priority.

Quiroz, a 10-year resident of Jackson Heights and native of Chicago, said that as a councilmember it’s important to learn how to work within the budget cuts. In addition to supporting public-private partnerships to get more funds, he would create a task force to work out the diverse problems of each ethnic community. He agreed with Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s centralized language access program because people should understand the services provided.

Sears said that this year the City Council has a $1.5 billion shortfall and making the budget cuts is a real challenge. She said that in the district community organizations currently offered English and citizenship classes, but they needed to be expanded. Sears acknowledged that more could be done to expand access to services in various languages, especially in healthcare. She said her office has Spanish and Chinese staff to assist constituents.

Dromm, who highlighted his 25 years as a teacher, said that he would fight for after-school programs and, in Spanish, that more money should allocated to teach English.

A representative of Make The Road New York, a social justice community organization, asked about the tenant-landlord issues as related to Vantage Management and Apollo Investment Corporation, support of tenant associations and the preservation of affordable housing in Queens.

Having recently marched with Make The Road against abusive landlords, Dromm said he has organized tenants and been a member of a tenant association. Kalathara said that abuses continue because there are no regulations. Quiroz said that it was important to fight how landlords treat people. “People [have] the right to keep and stay in their houses,” he said. Sears said that “bad landlords had no right in New York City.”

New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE), an immigrant organizing community organization, asked questions about jobs and job training, day laborers, and immigrant women’s issues.

All the candidates agreed that creating jobs that offered fair wages and establishing job development and training centers was an important factor in advancing the lives of people in the district. Sears praised the local community centers and told the crowd that the reason why NICE can do the things they do is because of the money they get from the City Council. In particular, Dromm said that he would work with the labor unions.

In regards to the economy and jobs, Kalathara mentioned several times his interest in getting Roosevelt Avenue a designation as a Business Improvement District and that by doing so it would improve the quality of life on the avenue.

“None of these people [the other candidates] ever created any jobs. It is so ridiculous that they don’t have any business acumen,” he said.

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