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WATCH: District 31 special election candidates talk ranked-choice voting, their predecessor and more

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Candidates running for the special election in City Council District 31 gathered for a candidate forum hosted by Queens County Politics and QNS on Wednesday, Feb. 17.

All nine candidates running for the Feb. 23 election – LaToya Benjamin, Selvena Brooks-Powers, Latanya Collins, Sherwyn James, Nicole Lee, Nancy Martinez, Pesach Osina, Shawn Rux and Manuel Silva – shared why they thought they’re best suited to replace now Queens Borough President Donovan Richards on the council. 

Richards represented the district, which encompasses Arverne, Brookville, Edgemere, Far Rockaway, Laurelton, Rosedale, Springfield Gardens, from 2013 until last December when he vacated it to take the office of Queens Borough President. The winner of the special election will serve out his term, which goes until the end of the year when the winner of the June primary and November general election will take office.

This will be the city’s second election to use ranked-choice voting. Early voting ends this weekend and election day is Tuesday. 

During the debate, the candidates outlined what they feel is the most important issue in the district. 

James began by saying that there wasn’t a single most important issue in the district, a position many of colleagues agreed with. Lee, Brooks-Powers, Benjamin and Collins placed a strong emphasis on health and safety. Osina said he aims to create a resilient community. Rux cited flooding as a major issue that needs to be addressed and Silva emphasized the importance of investing in infrastructure.

The candidates then had to grade the former councilman’s performance while in office. 

Silva, who served as Richards’ chief of staff, gave the former office holder a 5 out of 5 when it came to “bringing resources back to the community,” but gave him a lower grade on other, unspecified aspects of the job. 

James and Martinez had harsher assessments of Richards’ performance as a city councilman. James, who refused to give a numbered ranking, said Richards was “long on promises, short on delivery,” and Martinez asked if she could dole out a ranking “lower than a one?”

Brooks-Powers, who received Richards endorsement, Benjamin, Osina, Lee, Collins, and Rux all gave Richards a score somewhere in the middle. 

Candidates also discussed the Rental Assistance Demonstration program, the need for a new precinct in the district and who they’d be ranking second on their ballots (spoiler alert: no one gave a name). 

Watch the full candidate forum below and click here for a voters guide on the special election

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