By Patrick Donachie
Multiple Democratic candidates are vying to fill the state Assembly seat in southeast Queens left vacant since Barbara Clark died in February.
The September primary will determine the Democratic nominee in the race to decide who represents District 33, which Cambria Heights, St. Albans, Queens Village, Hollis and Bellerose. Clark, who was a strong advocate for education and a fixture on the Queens political scene, held the seat from 1987 until she died.
Brian Block has held the position of Community Board 13 chairman since 2009 and was previously the board’s executive secretary and a member of the Cambria Heights Civic Association.
Sabine French is a community advocate, the vice President of the Haitian American Political Action Committee of New York and a campaigner for the Democratic Party in New York state elections.
Leroy Gadsden is the president of the Jamaica branch of the NAACP and has worked to fight police misconduct and school closures. He announced his candidacy in May at a news conference where he answered questions from community members. During his tenure, he helped train legal observers to monitor polling sites with high minority voting populations and helped foster voter registration and turnout organizations.
Roy Paul, a board member for the Jamaica Service Program for Older Adults and a founder of the Southeast Queens Young Democrats, said that he did consider running for the seat until others suggested he try. He said he could hunt down necessary resources for struggling district schools.
“You can’t expect people to do that with legislation alone. You need someone who can go out and be proactive and get the resources that Albany says do not exist,” he said. “We’ll have to do a needs assessment of all of our schools, and lack of technological resources is at the top of our list.”
Clyde Vanel, who ran against Clark as an independent in the 2012 Democratic primary and general election, and said he entered the race into the ring to attract jobs to the district, envisioning a “Silicon Jamaica” that would bring tech companies to the downtown area.
“(Companies) want places that have an urban feel but not an urban center, and downtown Jamaica has that potential,” he said, noting that the improved business opportunities could help spur homeownership. “One of the biggest problems in the city and country is the next generation can’t afford to buy and live in the neighborhoods where they grew up.”
Nantasha Williams, who is currently the chief of staff to Assemblywoman Diana C. Richardson (D-Brooklyn), said that lowering the high foreclosure rate in southeast Queens was an important issue for her campaign. She hoped to inspire public participation through her candidacy and advocacy.
“Public participation is so bad and government doesn’t take it upon itself to increase public participation, and that’s wrong,” she said. “You can’t really do anything else if you don’t have people engaged.”
The Democratic primary will be held on Sept. 13 and the winner of the primary may face a potential general election challenge in November.
Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona