Six compete in Dem primary for Weprin’s seat

By Tom Momberg

Six candidates will face off in the Democratic primary election on Thursday, Sept. 10, in the race to take Mark Weprin’s former City Council seat in eastern Queens.

The candidates are Celia Dosamantes, Bob Friedrich, Barry Grodenchik, Rebecca Lynch, Ali Najmi and Satnam Singh Parhar. The vacant Council position also attracted the interest of a Republican contender, retired NYPD Captain Joe Concannon.

The race for the District 23 seat, which covers Glen Oaks, Hollis Hills, Bellerose, Floral Park, Bayside Hills and parts of Queens Village and some other small neighborhoods, is the most competitive in more than a decade.

Weprin had served in the position since 2010, prior to which his brother, current state Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows) held it since 2001.

But the seat known for the 14-year Weprin dynasty went vacant in May when Mark Weprin left to take an appointed position on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s staff, serving as a liaison between the governor, the state Assembly and the City Council.

Because the Weprins are no longer candidates in a District 23 election, there was an immediate outpouring of interest in the seat.

Two of the candidates have previously put in bids for the District 23 seat. Friedrich ran against Mark Weprin in the 2009 Democratic primary, and Concannon ran against Weprin in the 2013 general election as a Republican.

Dosamantes, Najmi and Parhar are all South Asians seeking to represent that growing demographic on the City Council. More than 38 percent of the population in the district was Asian as of 2013, with over 40 percent identified as South Asian, according to American Community Survey census tract data. And that population is growing.

Afreen Alam, the executive director of the Chhaya Community Development Corporation, an organization committed to helping build sustainable South Asian communities in the city and the host of a recent debate among the Democratic contenders, said the number of South Asians running reflects a rise in civic interest among those communities.

“Our parents’ generation was more about trying to get their foot in the city, but now South Asians are more involved in political and civic engagement,” Alam said. “The City Council election is a reflection of that trend.”

Another important demographic in the Council District is its aging population. About 29 percent of the district is over the age of 55, according to census statistics. The median age of people in the district is 42, while the median age in the city as a whole is 36.

A 2013 analysis by AARP, which sponsored another debate among the primary candidates, found that at least 74 percent of its members in Queens turn out in local elections, putting them in a position to dominate the city vote. In Council District 23, several candidates have been focusing on affordable housing, caregiver support and other social resources.

“I think the question is for many of our seniors, what will candidates be able to do to make life sustainable in Queens,” AARP Associate Director of New York Chris Widelo said. “As we get older, we are always looking for ways to remain in our communities.”

Although it is too late to vote in next week’s primary for unregistered voters, district residents have until the Oct. 9 deadline to register for the Tuesday, Nov. 3 general election.

For voter information or to locate designated polling sites, visit the city Board of Elections online at vote.nyc.ny.us/html/voters/voters.shtml.

The last Democratic primary held for City Council District 23 was in 2009, in which fewer than 8,500 votes were cast. Just fewer than 20,000 votes were cast in the general election for the same seat in 2013.

Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomberg@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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