By Naeisha Rose
U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) is facing two very different challengers in the June 26 Democratic Primary for the 5th Congressional District, which comprises parts of both of Queens and Nassau County.
Meeks is a 20-year incumbent in the district, where he is up against technologist Mizan Choudhury and Carl Achille, a detective and Iraqi war veteran.
His top campaign goals are to fight for health care, push through reforms for gun control and tackle immigration in the Trump era.
“I work seven days a week, from morning to night, to fight for my constituency in the 5th Congressional District,” said Meeks, who represents a wide swath of southeast Queens, including St. Albans, South Ozone Park and Rosesdale up to Jamaica Estates.
Meeks wants to save protections that were provided in the Affordable Care Act, which prohibited insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, assured maternity and newborn care and guarded policy holders from being dropped by their providers when they were sick.
“To the detriment of Americans benefitting from the Affordable Care Act’s protections, the GOP and this administration have practiced sabotage and repeal,” said Meeks. “We cannot go backwards. We shouldn’t return to a time when needing medical help too often left families bankrupt.”
With the prevalence of shootings at schools in America, Meeks wants to tighten federal laws on guns.
“My priorities are closing the gun show loophole and implementing universal background checks, reinstating the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, and stopping the flow of guns into New York from less restrictive states,” said Meeks. “It is my hope that with a Democratic Congress, we will be able to finally push through these overdue reforms. I have also introduced legislation, the Investor Choice Against Gun Proliferation Act, to require public companies to disclose their relationship with the gun industry.”
Immigration is one of the top three priorities for both Choudhury and Meeks.
Choudhury is a Bengali immigrant who came to the United States in 1997. He works as a technology manager for Northwell Health, a collection of health-care facilities, is a community activist who lives in Bellerose, one of the neighborhoods a few miles outside of the district and is a business owner.
The U.S. Constitution only requires congressional candidates to be at least 25-years-old, and to have been a U.S. citizen and a resident of the state you represent for seven years.
Choudhury wants to legalize Dreamers, undocumented young people brought to this country illegally as children.
“I plan support Dreamers,” said Choudhury. “We need to introduce legislation to curtail the power of the executive administration.”
Meeks also wants to fight for Dreamers and has joined an amicus brief to oppose the legal status question proposed in the 2020 census.
Outside of their shared goal of advocating for immigrants, Choudhury believes that Meeks is out of touch with his constituents and that the other main issues that should be focused on in southeast Queens, the Rockaway Peninsula and the Nassau County towns that border Queens are jobs and affordable housing.
“My opponent, current Congressman Gregory Meeks, has been in office for 20 years but has not done much,” said Choudhury. “His office never returns phone calls and does not provide constituency services.”
Achille is the son of Haitian immigrants and lives in Elmont. He also believes Meeks is detached from his constituents and the main problems facing the district are the lack of quality jobs and affordable housing.
“Millenials are some of the highest educated individuals in history and it is real difficult for them to find jobs after college,” said Achille. “They can’t afford a simple place to live and that is unfair to us as people who live in this district.”
Choudhury has 18 years of experience working as an information specialist for Fortune 500 companies like Verizon, and is the owner of the Mirch restaurant in Jamaica.
The national unemployment rate is 3.8 percent, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, but in Meeks’ district it is nearly 8.2 percent said Choudhury. The Census also depicts the unemployment rate for the area at 8.2 percent.
“I propose a tech-hub with a vocational training institute to create 1,000-plus jobs and focus on our youths and their future for economic and social prosperity and mobility,” said Choudhury, who wants the tech incubator to be in Jamaica.
Achille believes that redeveloping the Hempstead Avenue corridor from Jamaica Avenue in Queens to Franklin Square in Nassau County is necessary to for the area’s economy.
“We want the businesses to fit,” said Achille. “We want the type of businesses that are there to be something that draw people in and make them want to come live in the district and make it flourish,” added the former vice president of the Elmont Chamber of Commerce.
Choudhury wants more affordable housing and rental units to be built in the district, more senior centers for the elderly, more access to loans for working families, and he wants to close the HUD budget gap.
Achille wants to see affordable housing built in Queens and Nassau County.
“I would love to see housing in Far Rockaway — Far Rockaway is a gem,” said Achille. “There are parts of Far Rockaway that are dilapidated and run down that could use an economic boost.”
Achille also wants an increase investment for transportation in the district and to reduce pollution and noise pollution from John F. Kennedy Airport.
Meeks maintains that he is the best candidate in this three-way race.
“My tenure in Congress has given me a substantial voice in Washington, D.C., to argue for the things that matter for my district, our state, and the United States of America,” said Meeks.
Choudhury believes his ideas to help the 5th Congressional District will help him win.
“Carl Achille is relatively a novice at politics, a police officer and war veteran. He has not laid out his vision for CD 5 and does not have the plan to turn CD 5 around,” said Choudhury.
Achille, 34, has has lived in the district since he was three days old and has family is spread out through it, and he said his familiarity with both the Queens and Nassau County sides will give him the edge in this race.
“I am no stranger to this district,” said Achille “I’m not some outsider trying to see an opportunity and take it…I’ve lived here longer than any of the candidates and it makes me the most acquainted with it.”
Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose