Candidates seeking to fill the 23rd Council District seat that Mark Weprin previously held were face to face for the first time Tuesday in a debate hosted by the New American Voters Association (NAVA) at the Bellerose Jewish Center.
Democrats Barry Grodenchik, Celia Dosamantes, Bob Friedrich and Satnam Singh Parhar will be competing in a Sept. 10 primary along with Ali Najmi and Rebecca Lynch, who were absent from the debate. Former NYPD Captain Joe Concannon is the sole Republican candidate in the race.
A previously unannounced candidate, Michael Foubister, also came forward to claim a space in the debate to the surprise of many, including the event’s organizers, who seemed not to know who he was and had not included him in the program.
Although he was allowed to participate in the NAVA debate, Foubister later admitted that he did not have all the signatures needed to petition for the ballot, and The Courier confirmed that he was not listed in Board of Elections records as of July 16, the last day to file for inclusion.
Candidates were asked to speak on a variety of topics, including their legislative agenda, the amount of funding they planned to allocate to public education and charter school alternatives, and their biggest community initiatives in issues close to home.
The candidates were united on many issues, with some even agreeing with positions held by their opponents during their own turn to speak. All five have been involved with rallies against a proposed juvenile detention center planned for a residential street in Queens Village. Most agreed to increasing public school funding, and were against increasing the number of vouchers for charter schools.
Parhar, a businessman who has operated several successful clothing stores and a construction company, said that his legislative priority would be to lower utility bills. He believed that as a self-made businessman he could relate to taxpayers’ increasing worries on the price of living in the city.
“People cannot afford their bills. People cannot afford taxes. People cannot afford sewage and water bills,” Parhar said. “Think about our street lights. Think about our potholes.”
Concannon focused on the effect that public policy has on public safety. The former NYPD member challenged former Councilman Weprin for the District 23 seat in 2013 under the Reform Party line.
“One thing I learned as a cop is, a well-educated child has very little interaction with the police department at all,” Concannon said. “So I believe well-educated kids, well-educated families, and funding libraries is a part of that.”
Bob Friedrich, a well-known civic organizer who is also president of his Glen Oaks co-op, said he wants to fight policies that do not serve the outer-borough needs of District 23 well, such as instituting tolls on free East River crossings and a 10-cent grocery bag surcharge.
“That’s another Manhattan-centric proposal where people go to the local bodega in Manhattan with one shopping bag,” Friedrich said. “In this part of Queens, often we come by car, we do a week’s worth of groceries, and that’s going to add a thousand dollars to your shopping bill every year. We need to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Candidates expressed strong views on a controversial City Council vote that may limit drivers hired by Uber, a mobile phone application that enables users to summon a livery car and intends to add 10,000 new workers this year. Once elected, the winning candidate will take part in the decision, which was just stalled for four months while a study examines the company’s impact on the city’s traffic and environment.
Grodenchik, who has endorsements from major Democratic players such as Mark Weprin and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, supported expanding Uber as a force catering to the economy and transportation needs of northeast Queens, which he felt was often forgotten by City Hall.
“We live here in eastern Queens right on the Nassau border where we’re often forgotten. I will be a person to raise his voice to support economic opportunities for the people in this community,” Grodenchik said. “Uber is a success story and it employs thousands and thousands of people. We need to encourage those success stories.”
Dosamantes, a former deputy chief of staff for Assemblyman Philip Ramos, executive assistant for Rep. Grace Meng and communications director for David Weprin, supports an Uber expansion because it could be developed into a resource within the city to employ able workers. She has previously stated that job creation is a major focus in her campaign.
“What’s most important to our district, what’s most important to our community, is job creation,” said Dosamantes, who added that increasing living costs have caused more and more New Yorkers to struggle when making ends meet. “When you take away any type of job opportunity that gives New Yorkers good paying jobs, that gives New Yorkers the opportunity to have a chance to provide for their families and take care of them, I don’t support the mayor for that.”
Mark Weprin vacated the 23rd District seat in June to become Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s deputy secretary of legislative affairs. The district contains all or parts of Bayside Hills, Bellerose, Douglaston, Floral Park, Fresh Meadows, Glen Oaks, Hollis, Little Neck, New Hyde Park, Oakland Gardens and Queens Village.