It was a transfixed audience that was standing room only for the first debate for candidates for the 31st NY City Council District. The forum was sponsored by the Queens Chapter of the National Action Network (Q-NAN) and the race is for the special election to replace the now Senator James Sanders Jr. that vacated the position.
Six candidates joined the debate. Selvena Brooks, Michael Duncan, Earnest Flowers III, Saywalah Kesselly, Jacques Leandre and Marie Adam-Ovide. Candidates Donovan Richards, Allan Jennings and Pesach Osina were not in attendance, a point which Q-NAN President Reverend Phil Craig, felt spoke volumes.
Jacques Leandre received a lot of hostility from the audience for challenging the validity of the other candidate’s collected signatures. Especially when it was revealed that he did not challenge the signatures of Pesach Osina, the Orthodox Jewish Candidate from Far Rockaway. There is concern that Pesach, who is little known in the African American dominated Southeast Queens area, can steal the election due to his strong community of voters and the likelihood that so many candidates vying for the seat will split the African American vote. It was a heated moment in the forum for which candidates had to take responsibility for when a question of leadership and mentoring the youth hit the floor. I am “appalled at the behavior that we have displayed as adults. What model of behavior are we going to have for our children that we can have an opportunity to have discourse and disagree in a respectful manner,” asked resident Stacie NC Grant. At which point candidates took their turn at the podium to express apology at any negative behavior they displayed before talking of ways to empower the youth.
Jacques recovered a bit from the challenge fray on the subject of creating jobs. He was able to speak to the business he owns and operates in the district. Several of the youth employed at his business were represented in the audience and took their turn to stand and be acknowledged.
Marie Adam-Ovide was also effective on that question due to her honesty. She admitted to not having created jobs in the community, but rather offered that her experience with the young people of the community, helps ready the people in the community for the jobs that her competitors have been able to create. She was forthright throughout the forum with responses that leaned heavily towards education and the youth. Selvena Brooks was poised and clear in her answers and represented a strong countenance. Her responses leaned heavily on her work in state government using a lot of the word ‘we’ without wholly quantifying that ‘we’.
Little known candidate Saywalah Kesselly was clear that he was not a politician. Although he had several positive arguments about community engagement and continually added levity to the forum, his strong accent and soft spoken demeanor made him difficult to understand at times.
Earnest Flowers III spoke of a long resume of community works. His shortfall of the evening was the answer to the question of what is the most pressing issue that they would address in office. ‘Environment,” he said, which received an obligatory unenthusiastic round of applause. The other candidates’ responses to the query were “education,” said Duncan. Since he stole her word, Marie Adam-Ovide opted for “services”. “Economic empowerment” was Saywalah’s phrase. Selvena said “economy” and Jacques was last to respond with the word "forward". His response had many participants asking others what he said.
But candidates couldn’t answer the one question which was the backdrop of the forum and pointedly asked by Bishop Charles Norris of the Southeast Queens Clergy for Political Awareness. In a field of so many candidates who is the front runner that gets the support and doesn’t split the vote.
Duncan, in an interview after the forum, spoke of each candidate not wanting to say they were not the best. At the end of the forum, there were many residents in attendance who though his clear and concise responses along with his community leadership made him the night’s winner.
But with the election fast approaching, the quandary of a front runner needs quick resolution. It was hard to pick a front runner and winner of the debate at the end of the evening. Residents each had their own favorite yet many left still undecided. Judging by the Apollo clap meter at the end of the forum, where candidates gave their closing remarks, the winner would have been Jacques Leandre. He not only received the same hearty applause as some of the other candidates but a few hoots and hollers as well. However, it should be noted that the audience did include many connected to his business which could have swung the clap-o-meter in his direction.
The forum was held at Greater Springfield Community Church. There are similar forums scheduled for later this week. The Federated Blocks of Laurelton is hosting a forum at St. Lukes Church on Thursday and The African Poetry Theater is hosting one this Saturday.
The 31st City Council District covers Rosedale, Far Rockaway, Laurelton and Springfield Gardens. The Special Election is scheduled for Tuesday, February 19th.