2008-07-16 / Political Page

Obama Forces Back Challenges To Meeks In SE Queens Primary

In an interesting development in the Southeast Queens 6th Congressional District, opponents of incumbent Congressmember Gregory Meeks, who elected three of five Democratic convention delegates pledged to Barack Obama last February, are backing a challenge to Meeks in the September primary election.

According to the city Board of Elections, Ruben Wills of St. Albans submitted candidate petitions to run in the Democratic primary to be held on Tuesday, September 9. Previous reports said that Wills is supported by the group headed by City Councilmember James Sander Jr. of Arverne, who also led Obama supporters in the February 4 presidential primaries.

In those primaries, Sanders and two other Obama- pledged candidates defeated three of five regular Democratic stalwarts who ran as Hillary Rodham Clinton delegates on Super Tuesday when presidential primaries were held in about 25 states across the country.

Only Assemblymember Barbara M. Clark of Queens Village and former Councilmember Archie Spigner emerged as Clinton delegates that day.

So the question arises: will Meeks, a longtime representative of the predominantly black 6th CD, be able to fend off a second foray by the Obama contingent? The district includes Jamaica, St. Albans, Springfield Gardens, Arverne and the Rockaways.

The vote for Obama that day was a clear victory for Sanders' group, the first time in memory that an insurgent force was able to best the regular Democratic forces headed by Meeks.

We were unable to make contact yesterday with Meeks, Sanders or Wills, but will pursue them in the future as we cover the campaign leading up to the September primary.

OTHER DEM PRIMARY CONTESTS: Of the roughly 30 other congressional and state legislative primaries coming up in November and involving a slew of Democratic incumbents, only eight are being challenged. They are:

•Congressmember Joseph Crowley, the Queens Democratic Party chairman, who will face Dennis Coleman and Jose Serrano, both of The Bronx. Serrano is no relation politically or personally to Congressmember Jose M. Serrano (D- The Bronx), according to his office.

•State Senator Shirley Huntley, a freshman in the Southeast Queens 10th District, who's being challenged by former Councilmember Allan W. Jennings Jr. Jennings was booted out of the council.

•Councilmember Joseph P. Addabbo Jr. (Ozone Park), who will square off with Albert Baldeo of Jamaica to determine who will oppose state Senator Serphin Maltese, the Republican incumbent for the 15th district seat, in the general election.

•State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, the 16th senate district incumbent in Flushing/College Point/Whitestone, who's being challenged by Robert Schwartz of Forest Hills.

•Assemblymember Ellen Young of Flushing, the first Asian-American woman to serve in the state legislature, who's being challenged by Grace Meng, also of Flushing.

•Assemblymember Michele Titus of South Ozone Park, challenged by Donovan J. Richards Jr., of Far Rockaway, vying for the 31st AD Dem nomination.

All of the above Democratic incumbents are favored to fend off their opponents and win their nominations.

Meanwhile, on the Republican side of the primary ledger, we're told by Queens party officials there is just one contest- in the 5th CD, covering Bayside and parts of Long Island- and it involves Great Neck attorney Elizabeth Berney, who's endorsed by the Queens GOP, and James Pellicarpio. The winner would have a hard task, facing incumbent Congressmember Gary Ackerman, a 20-year veteran in the House.

The Berney- Pellicarpio winner will join the list of hopefuls who'll be taking on Dem incumbents in the most ambitious challenge mounted by the new Republican regime headed by party leader Phil Ragusa of Beechhurst.

PERALTA EYES COUNCIL SEAT: If city Councilmember Hiram Monserrate, as expected, wins the Jackson Heights state senate seat in November, the special election to fill his vacated city council post won't be held until early next year.

At that time, Assemblymember Jose Peralta (D- Corona), fresh off being reelected, will step up to run for Monserrate's vacated seat, and he'll be a heavy favorite to win it. Both the Corona/East Elmhurst council seat and Peralta's Assembly seat cover the same territory assuring him favorite status for the council post.

According to published reports, Peralta has just about made up his mind to take on any challengers for the Monserrate seat, feeling he can win it easily. There are several advantages: no more merry-go-round commute to Albany, more money in the council ($112,500 as compared to his Assembly salary of $79,500), and a sure chance to be more relevant at City Hall than in the state capital.

On the latter point, after serving out the final year of Monserrate's term, Peralta will be positioned to try for the Speaker's job when the new council assembles at the start of the 2010- 2013 term.

RESTRUCTURE WATER BOARD, SAY GENNARO, WEPRIN: Queens Councilmembers David Weprin and James Gennaro, who led the vigorous but unsuccessful fight to block recent water rate increases, are now calling for the restructuring of the city Water Board to make it more independent and more accountable.

The Water Board, which sets the water rate, presently consists of seven members, all appointed by the mayor. Under the Weprin- Gennaro proposal, the mayor would appoint four members and the other three would be named by the council. The proposed changes would have to be enacted in Albany.

Weprin (D- Hollis), chair of the Finance Committee, stated, "Unfortunately, due to the Water Board's current structure, the council has no say over the Water Board's decisions. This lack of accountability to ratepayers must come to an end. Adding council appointees give the people of this city a voice on the Water Board."

Gennaro (D- Fresh Meadows) stated, "Without a more balanced membership and a truly independent staff, there's nothing compelling the Water Board to rebuke the Bloomberg administration's thirst for New Yorkers' cash through high water rates."

In the past two years, the Water Board has voted for two consecutive double-digit rate hikes, which were imposed on every homeowner and landlord in the city.

Weprin also urged the state legislature to pass two other bills regarding rental payments which the Water Board makes to the city. One would limit the application of these payments to the city debt service, rather than put them the General Fund; the second prohibits the city from imposing any rent upon the Water Board which exceeds the debt service on outstanding debt issued prior to 1985.

PROGRAM TO REGISTER DISABLED TO VOTE: Borough President Helen Marshall last Wednesday launched a program to register to vote 5,000 individuals with disabilities in the coming months. The "My Vote Counts" campaign will have Marshall teaming up with Queens Board of Elections Director Barbara Conacchio, Ray De Natele, who chairs the Queens Council on Developmental Disabilities, and Charlie Hope of the Advisory Council for Persons With Disabilities.

Marshall noted that among the major issues for the disabled are health care, high unemployment rate and community choice in housing and education. Exercising the right to vote will help this special group to secure these goals. Marshall added that her campaign will educate and encourage individuals with disabilities to register and vote.

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