By Sarina Trangle
As he seeks to shed his freshman title, state Sen. James Sanders (D-South Ozone Park) says he is on the cusp of completing a vocational school that has consumed him since he was first elected to public office in 2001.
Sanders described plans to open a vocational school in Rockaway as 90 percent complete in a recent visit to the TimesLedger Newspapers’ offices. He allocated discretionary funding early in his City Council career for studying which brief training programs could provide constituents lacking degrees with jobs and salaries large enough to support families.
Now Sanders says several industries, including the diamond business, hotels near John F. Kennedy International Airport and truck transporters, are interested in teaching and recruiting at the school.
“Everybody should pay something because then you appreciate it,” he said of a facility he anticipates will serve 300. “You pay what you can, we will pay the difference.”
The school is one prong of the economic development vision Sanders is putting up against that of two other contenders in the Sept. 9 Democratic primary. Sanders’ district runs from Arverne to Far Rockaway and up through Rosedale, South Jamaica, South Ozone Park and Richmond Hill.
Gian Jones, a real estate executive from Bayswater, described plans to start a local credit union and secure a preferential status for minority, women and veteran-owned businesses in the district in bidding on projects at JFK.
And Everly Brown, a Rosedale developer, said he would incubate a program similar to the Harlem Children’s Zone, which offers an array of social services for families, in southeast Queens while working to open a community college in a public housing complex and a Rockaway amusement park.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, the building service workers union 32BJ SEIU and the city public employees union DC 37, have endorsed the incumbent, while Brown turned to former City Councilman Allan Jennings and ex-Sen. Shirley Huntley, who just finished a 10-month prison sentence, for support.
Jones said he was backed by Michael Duncan, Sanders’ former chief of staff, and Community Board 14 member Felicia Johnson.
The state Board of Elections’ website did not include the 11-day pre-primary campaign finance filing for any candidate in the race. Jones’ and Sanders’ campaigns said they were behind and Brown blamed any delays on the BOE.
The senator’s challengers charged his poor collaboration skills were dragging down the district — Brown saying Sanders did not partner with other southeast Queens elected officials to pass legislation and Jones saying voters reported having difficulty tracking down Sanders.
Sanders’ campaign countered he took pride in having a responsive constituent service set up.
The senator touted collaboration with the mayor and governor, and he did not mince words about his distant, at times tense, relationship with the Queens Democratic Party.
He said he did not come up through the party hierarchy, but under the guidance of former U.S. Rep. Floyd Flake.
Still, he said he was not opposed to working with the party, and his recent endorsement of the county pick, former Councilman Leroy Comrie, in the neighboring Senate district had a lot to do with mending this relationship.
If re-elected, Sanders said his focus on economic development would include passing his bill for a higher state minimum wage with increases based on inflation and the option for cities to raise the base pay up to 30 percent above the state’s.
He would also work to prevent families from getting priced out by trying to create affordable housing and inking community benefit agreements with mega developers.
His other priorities include preparing for future hurricanes and improving the criminal justice system by supporting the city as it retrains police.
Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at stran[email protected]nglocal.com.