By Patrick Donachie
New York State Sen. James Sanders (D-Rochdale Village) says downtown Jamaica is need of community economic development and he is working to ensure that the community living in the area now benefits from the increased retail and residential development happening throughout the area.
“If we’re going to avoid the tensions that Chicago and other cities have, we have to show possibilities,” Sanders said during an interview with TimesLedger staff at the paper’s Bayside offices. “Hope is the best antidote and the best solution.”
Sanders is facing a challenge in the Democratic primary from Adrienne Adams, a community activist and the chairwoman of Community Board 12, which includes much of Jamaica’s downtown area. Sanders currently represents District 10 in the state Senate, which includes parts of Richmond Hill, Jamaica, South Jamaica, South Ozone Park and Springfield Gardens.
Earlier this year, Sanders briefly considered challenging U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica), who represents much of southeast Queens in Congress. Instead, Sanders ran for re-election to the state Senate.
Sanders was born in Far Rockaway and served a three-year stint in the U.S. Marines. Starting in 2001, he served for 12 years representing the communities of Laurelton, Rosedale, Springfield Gardens, Edgemere, Bayswater, Arverne and Far Rockaway in the City Council, and was the first African-American to chair the Economic Development Committee. In 2013, he was elected to the state Senate. He serves on several committees and is the ranking Democrat on the Civil Services & Pensions Committee. Sanders stood apart as an elected official from Queens to support Sen. Bernie Sanders during the 2016 Democratic presidential primary.
Sanders stressed the need to continue supporting local businesses and touted his role in the creation of the city standards for assisting Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises. In his time in the City Council, prior to his election to the state Legislature, he sponsored several bills to help MWBEs compete more fairly for city contracts.
Sanders said more could be accomplished if the Democrats could manage to retake the state Senate in the general election in November, which he considered likely due to what he believed was the corrosive influence of Donald Trump on down-ballot Republicans.
“Trump has trumped the party. He has unleashed stuff that America should leave in the past. You can’t go back, you have to go forward,” he said. “He has left a mark regardless of whether he wins or loses.”
Sanders spoke at length about the state of the relationship between the police and community in his Senate district, and he said that while the same problems existed in Queens as existed throughout the nation, he had witnessed a lessening of the tension in recent weeks. He also said the Broken Windows policy utilized by the NYPD, where officers concentrate on low-level offenses in an attempt to deter serious crimes, was a badly misused concept. Sanders said some of the issues stemmed from Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision to not hire more cops during his tenure.
“It’s got to be humiliating,” he said about the stop-and -frisk policies, used by police who may have found something illegal on one person after having searched ten.
“You may have caught one person,” he said. “But now you have nine people who want nothing to do with (the police).”
The Democratic primary between Sanders and Adams will be held on Sept. 13.
Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona