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By Sadef Ali Kully

As the Sept. 10 primary inches closer, candidates running for the 23rd Council District in eastern Queens have started playing hard ball.

Last week’s Democratic candidates’ debate, held at Hillside Banquet and organized by Jackson Heights-based Chhaya Community Development Corp., a housing and civic engagement community group, tackled issues that affect immigrant communities in District 23, which stretches from Douglaston down through Oakland Gardens to Fresh Meadows, Queens Village and Hollis.

The district’s seat became vacant after Mark Weprin resigned in June to work as deputy secretary of legislative affairs with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration.

Democratic candidates , Celia Dosamantes, Bob Friedrich, Barry Grodenchik, Rebecca Lynch and Ali Najmi took part in the debate. The only Democratic candidate not present was Satnam Singh Parhar.

A six-member panel was allowed to ask one question each. Some of the questions were on such controversial issues as legalizing basement apartments, which Najmi supported. Other candidates said they needed to look at community input before giving support, while Friedrich flat out opposed the idea.

On non-citizen voting, Dosamantes, Friedrich and Grodenchik were staunchly opposed to the concept, but Najmi and Lynch showed some support.

The blows started when campaign finance transparency was brought up and Friedrich accused Lynch of being a lobbyist for unions. Lynch, a labor union organizer, did not react.

Questions also addressed such subjects as healthcare for undocumented immigrants, overcrowded schools and quality-of-life issues.

Later, candidates were allowed to ask each other questions. Dosamantes asked Najmi why he challenged Parhar, to which Najmi responded that Parhar did not live in the district. Friedrich chimed in with support for Parhar, whose office said he does live in the borough.

Parhar’s residency is irrelevant, according to the city’s Board of Elections rules, which say those elected to city office have 90 days to relocate to the district they represent after the date they are sworn in.

The tension from last week’s debate carried over to a debate Tuesday that was organized by AARP and Queens Tribune newspapers at the Frank Padavan Campus in Glen Oaks. Candidates from all political parties were invited.

Democratic candidates, except for Parhar, participated along with Republican contender Joe Concannon, who had no opponent.

A three-member panel asked questions related to the aging population of the district and later took questions from the audience.

Friedrich started his opening statement by noting that his Democratic opponents had worked for the government, unlike him.

Questions ranged from tenants’ rights to senior resources to support for an extension on mayoral control.

Most candidates supported the same issues.

But on the extension of mayoral control of schools, Grodenchik, Lynch and Najmi supported the issue while Concannon, Dosamantes and Friedrich opposed it. In addition, Friedrich challenged his opponents on many of the issues during the course of the debate.

Reach Reporter Sadef Ali Kully by e-mail at skully@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4546.

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