With the Feb. 23 primary for City Council District 31 on the horizon, several southeast Queens business leaders gathered in Jamaica to officially endorse candidate LaToya Benjamin.
On Monday, Jan. 11, members from the Merchant Association of Rosedale, Laurelton and Springfield Gardens (MARLS) gathered at the Federation of African, Caribbean and American Restaurant Owners Corp (FACAROC), a wholesale and retail grocery store known as “The ROC,” to voice their support for Benjamin’s campaign.
Benjamin, a southeast Queens native and civic leader is one 15 candidates vying for the seat left vacant by Borough President Donovan Richards. According to the Queens Daily Eagle, 13 candidates filed petitions by the Dec. 16 deadline to run in the February primary. If elected, Benjamin would represent the neighborhoods of Laurelton, Rosedale, Springfield Gardens, Arverne, Edgemere and Far Rockaway.
“We are endorsing LaToya Benjamin because we know she has the experience, tenacity and understanding of what’s needed to shake up the political status quo,” said Annette Runcie, president of MARLS and owner of Pa-Nash Restaurant.
Runcie added that Benjamin and other candidates like her are necessary to put an end to the “political status quo” and stop the “suffering that our businesses are going through in southeast Queens.”
At just 13 years old, Benjamin got her start organizing for a City Council race, which led to other political and public service opportunities. She interned for Congressman Gregory Meeks, served as an associate to the office of public engagement at the Brooklyn DA’s office and joined Senator James Sander Jr.’s office in 2016. Most recently, Benjamin was elected Queens County Judicial Delegate earning over 4,000 votes.
The MARLS merchants shared that two major issues that southeast Queens faces are a suffering economy and poor quality schools.
“The most important thing [is] education,” said Michael Duncan, owner of Jamaica Breeze restaurant. “Education is a process, education is growth, education just does not prepare us for life, education is life itself. Therefore, if we are not educating our children, they are not living.”
Benjamin spoke of the importance of using collective “political power” to achieve the desired results in the local government and promised to use her expertise in economic development to help District 31 thrive.
“Political power is so crucial to the economic development and social development of our community,” Benjamin said. “If we don’t leverage our political power to create change and to ensure that we are supporting our small businesses, ensuring that our children are not left behind, we will fail.”
The candidate added that District 31 residents should patronize businesses like The ROC and other Black-owned businesses instead of shopping outside the community, in order to support local entrepreneurs.
“We should be educating and empowering more residents to start their own businesses in southeast Queens and helping them achieve their own piece of the American dream. That is what I have been doing as part of my work in politics and government and that is what I will continue to do, and expand upon, as the new City Council Member of the 31st District. I hope you will join me in that vision — a new vision, a better vision, a vision that will benefit everyone in this community. The time is now,” said Benjamin.
Joining Benjamin in the race for District 31 are Selvena Brooks-Powers, Bradley Jared Berfas, Kevin Carter, Monique Charlton, Latanya Collins, Rev. Sherwyn James, Franck Joseph, Joseph Kasper, Nicole Lee, Nancy Martinez, Pesach Osina, Perri Pierre, Shawn Rux and Manuel Silva.