The seriously comical debate for District 23

By Sadef Ali Kully

The candidate debate for the City Council seat vacated by Mark Weprin was going to be a regular debate session organized by different Queens Village community organizations until Michael Foubister, a new candidate for District 23, showed up Tuesday night.

The 54-year-old Foubister was wandering around the basement room at the Bellerose Jewish Center, where the debate was about to begin, and walked up to the candidates table.“I am a candidate,” he said, waving his city Campaign Finance Board list of contenders.

Most of the candidates for District 23, which covers the neighborhoods of Hollis Hills, Queens Village, Little Neck, Douglaston, Bellerose, Floral Park, Glen Oaks, Hollis, Holliswood, Fresh Meadows and Oakland Gardens, had no idea who the latecomer was and a couple even laughed.

One of the candidates, Bob Friedrich, shook his head and said anyone can list themselves on the Campaign Finance Board.

“He is not a candidate,” Friedrich said. “You have to file a petition with the Board of Elections.”

The four moderators consulted each other for a few minutes and agreed to allow Foubister to join the debate. He sat between Friedrich and Barry Grodenchik, both Democratic candidates for District 23.

The moderators were comprised of four members, each from the New American Women’s & Youth Forum, Guyanese American Workers United, New American Democratic Club and the Queens Village Civic Association.

In addition, Democrats Celia Dosamantes, Satnam Parhar, Barry Grodenchik and Robert Friedrich were on the panel along with Conservative Party candidate Joseph Concannon. Another Democratic hopeful, Rebecca Lynch, did not attend the debate nor did fellow Dem Ali Najmi, whose office said he had a scheduling conflict.

The debate raised questions from the panelists on a variety of issues from participatory budget funding in the district to maintaining the city’s best performing School District 26.

All candidates agreed that each issue deserved the attention of an elected official because of its importance and impact in the community, but Foubister felt it was important to sing out his support for music programs by warbling “I love music, any kind of music.”

As the race continues, candidates have become serious about their agendas for the district, Dosamantes said she will focus on education, serving community needs and has already planned a quality-of-life agenda for constituents. She mentioned splitting the 105th Precinct into two locations because the district is too large for all constituents to have access to public safety officials.

Grodenchik said the lack of transportation in the district was a headache and he has already looked into turning the Belmont LIRR station, usually used during the Belmont races, into a daily shuttle service between Belmont and Jamaica,

“It could run twice a day so that people could get to and from their jobs,” he said.

Despite the low crime rate in Queens, Concannon, a Republican who is also running on the Conservative line and a retired NYPD officer, said crime was rising in the borough and better police relations were needed. Friedrich echoed Concannon’s sentiments but pointed out that as the head of large apartment village co-op he has worked for the people rather than the government.

Parhar said it was important to focus on education, unify the district to combat common problems and to responsibly manage public funds.

Most of the candidates had similar answers on issues but the serious debate took a momentary comical turn after Foubister’s arrival.

Reach Reporter Sadef Ali Kully by e-mail at skully@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4546.