By Bianca Fortis
Three contenders have thrown their hats in the ring for the Democratic primary in southeast Queens to determine who wins the party spot for the City Council seat now held by Donovan Richards.
Richards, Michael Duncan and Ricardo Brown are all vying to win the September primary. The victor will face Republican Sherie Murray in the November general election.
Richards is asking voters to let him keep his job.He said he wants to build on the progress he has already made as the city councilman of the 31st District, which comprises parts of southeast Queens, including Springfield Gardens, Brookville and Arverne.
Richards won the position in a special election just last February.
He said he worked for 10 years for the district’s former councilman, James Sanders, who left the position to become a state senator. Richards worked for a time as the office’s chief of staff.
He said the most pressing issues in the district are jobs, education and affordable housing.
Among his accomplishments, he listed allocating $3.5 million for local schools and securing funds to support a gun buyback program in the community.
“I refuse to have a district where children and seniors are scared of stray bullets killing or injuring them,” he said.
He said he has already made progress on several of his priority issues. For example, tracking Hurricane Sandy relief funds in the Rockaways is a problem; the first bill he introduced would implement a way to track the funds to allow for greater transparency.
Richards said he should stay in office because he is already doing the job.
“I don’t have to say what I’m going to do,” he said. “I can speak of what I’ve done. That’s my biggest qualification.”
Michael Duncan also said his experience working for Sanders gives him the qualifications to run for office. He served as chief of staff from 2007-09. He also has served as the president of the Parent Teacher Association of various local schools and as a coach of the Rosedale Rockets Soccer Club. Those positions have influenced his understanding of education as an issue in the community.
He said he would like to push for after-school and tutoring programs, as well as other cultural and art programs. He said he wants to establish relationships with local businesses and encourage them to provide funding for social and recreational programs in the community.
Duncan owns a Jamaica Breeze restaurant and said he contributes 10 percent of his revenue to local programs.
“What I’m asking other businesses to do is not foreign to me,” he said. “I’m doing this right now.”
Another problem, he said, is the high rate of foreclosures within the district. He would provide foreclosure information through seminars to local residents where he would invite bank and lender representatives to speak.
“To judge what one is going to do in the future, a good thing to look at is what they have done,” he said. “I know I’m the one to lead the community forward.”
A third candidate in the race is Ricardo Brown, a public accountant. His experience in accounting and auditing makes him qualified for the job because his training has honed his ability to easily distinguish between what is right and what is not, he said.
He said he has audited all types of entities, both government and private, and that experience has made him a “clear thinker” in the internal processes of those entities.
His participation in the Springfield-Rosedale Community Action Association also helps him understand the needs of the community, he said.
One issue Brown identified as a problem is the use of Federal Emergency Management Agency and other relief resources in the community after Hurricane Sandy. He pointed to the many families who still have not been relocated months after the storm.
But he acknowledged that problems throughout the community cannot be addressed with one answer. Different neighborhoods, especially in the Rockaways, are segmented and community problems should be handled individually.
“You can’t just sit from the sidelines and say, ‘These are the issues in the Rockaways, and we’re going to resolve them,’” he said. “They’re segments. You have to go into each of the pockets of the segments to understand them.”
While three of four contenders are Democrats, there is one lone Republican: Sherie Murray.
Murray said she would first focus on jobs because the district suffers from an especially high unemployment rate.
She said development and other construction projects could be a way to bring jobs to the community. An example is Brookville Park: Murray said she would like to see a community pool added to it. If this were to happen, local residents with experience in construction could have first priority for job openings, she said.
Another issue is public transit, especially for the Rockaways, she said. She supports reactivating the Rockaway Beach branch of the Long Island Rail Road, which has become a controversial issue since a group of Queens residents are trying to turn the decommissioned rail line into a linear park similar to Manhattan’s High Line.
Murray also said she would work to implement full ferry service. Better public transportation would help the Rockaways become an “ultimate beach destination” and keep some tourism within the borough, she said.
“I hope I will be elected so we can begin to do some wonderful things for the residents in the Rockaways,” she said. “That way they will no longer feel like they are left out of the conversation and the decision-making process.”
Richards, Duncan and Brown will face one another in the city’s primary election Sept. 10. The winner will square off against Murray in the general election Nov. 5.
Reach reporter Bianca Fortis by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4546.