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By Madina Toure

Elmont businessman Ali Mirza, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) for his seat, says he is the best person to serve the diverse communities in the district.

The 5th Congressional District includes Jamaica, Jamaica Hills, Jamaica Estates, Hollis, South Flushing, Fresh Meadows, Richmond Hill, Woodhaven, Elmont, Valley Stream, Inwood and Floral Park.

Mirza, 56, who announced his candidacy Jan. 9, called Meeks an “absentee congressman” who stays in a “very limited geographical area, which is near his residence,” ignoring 90 percent of his district.

He also said he has been more vocal about and supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement and issues affecting the black community than Meeks, noting that he respects the work of police officers but some do abuse their power.

“I hope African-American communities and black communities will not just blindly say that, ‘OK, we have an African-American, black person in the Congress for 18 years so let’s keep on voting for him,’ but they will look at the better option that is available in Ali Mirza to represent them,” he said.

Meeks said Mirza is running a smear campaign against him and people are not familiar with his challenger.

“No one knows the guy, so some of his questions don’t deserve a response, quite frankly,” Meeks said.

The businessman also criticized Meeks for supporting the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which determines the rules for global trade. He is against the agreement.

He claimed that supporters of state Sen. James Sanders (D-South Ozone Park), who recently announced he would not pursue Meeks’ seat, are flocking to his side now.

“I’m going to try to seek his (Sanders’) support also, but I haven’t talked to him yet. But his supporters, some of them have already started coming to me,” he said.

Sanders declined to comment.

Mirza came to the United States from Pakistan as a student in 1984 to study at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut. He moved to Elmont in 1991 and has been living there since.

He started a property and casualty insurance agency in Flushing but when his wife, Jaweria, 36, took over and became the owner, she moved it to Long Island.

They have two children, Sobaika, 29, and Serene, 3.

He then started a new business, Mirza Strategies and Public Relations Inc.

From 1991 to 1995, he served as the first president of the Parent Teachers Association of the Al-Iman School, an Islamic school in Jamaica, where his daughter attended.

Mirza founded the Pakistani American Democratic Club of New York and Americans of Pakistani Heritage.

From 2002 to 2007, he organized Pakistani Night as part of International Nights at Shea Stadium in collaboration with the New York Mets.

In 2000 and 2010, he led efforts to make sure that the census properly counted immigrant populations. He is in favor of comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship for all undocumented residents, but he also said there has to be a screening process to ensure safety and security.

He also coordinated interfaith services for the Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities before and after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Mirza said he is concerned about the traffic that will be brought on by video lottery terminals (VLTs) at the Belmont Racetrack and said there should be more economic activity in Queens, given hotspots such as the Queens Museum and Citi Field.

“How come there is no economic development taking advantage of all these places?” he said.

He also suggested the creation of training programs for Department of Homeland Security personnel at Kennedy Airport.

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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