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September 4, 2009: Vol. 1, No. 6
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District 26 candidates face off

TimesLedger Newspapers

The four candidates seeking to replace City Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside) told the TimesLedger Newspapers staff in a debate last week that affordable housing, education, the oil spill at Newtown Creek and a dispute between tenants and landlord Vantage Properties were among the key issues leading up to the Sept. 15 Democratic primary.

The contenders, who joined TimesLedger, part of the Community Newspaper Group, Friday for a debate at the Flushing Library, also took a couple of shots at one another on how they are running their individual campaigns. Democrats facing off in the primary include attorney Deirdre Feerick, who has been endorsed by the Queens County Democratic Party; Queens Library External Affairs Director Jimmy Van Bramer; Long Island City attorney Brent O’Leary; and Woodside translator David Rosasco, who is running as a write-in candidate after his petitions were challenged and he was removed from the ballot.

The winner of the primary will face Republican Angelo Maragos in the general election.

The candidates agreed that creating more affordable housing amid the luxury buildings being constructed along Long Island City’s waterfront was essential. They said the city should ensure middle-class families would not leave the community to seek cheaper apartments in other neighborhoods.

“It shows great promise, but there are some concerns,” said Feerick of the massive Hunters Point South development project that would create hundreds of middle-income units in the neighborhood. “The concern is that we will be displacing people.”

They all said classrooms at district schools were overcrowded.

“We need to fund new school construction,” Van Bramer said. “It’s a fundamental moral obligation that every child has an equal chance at a quality education.”

Feerick said the city would eventually need to construct new schools in western Queens, while other candidates said the city should utilize underused space in the district.

“There are Catholic schools that are not being used,” O’Leary said. “Using a school as a school should not be a novel idea.”

The candidates said they would seek federal funding to clean up the massive oil spill at Newtown Creek, which separates western Queens from Brooklyn. A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter patrol discovered the oil spill, believed to be more than 50 years old, in 1978 along the waterway, where Standard Oil once operated an oil refinery.

The Democratic contenders also blasted landlord Vantage Properties, which operates its borough headquarters in Long Island City. The company owns and operates nearly 10,000 apartment units, many of which are rent-regulated, in an estimated 150 buildings citywide. Vantage has been the target of criticism from affordable housing advocates, who accuse the company of harassing rent-stabilized tenants, especially those living in western Queens, in the hopes of making way for residents who could pay more for market rate units.

“People are being turned out of their homes and harassed for big corporate interests,” Van Bramer said.

But Rosasco said he believed Vantage was not the only landlord pressuring tenants in the district.

“There are a lot of Donald Trump-types in the district who have converted two-family homes into the Hotel California,” he said.

The candidates were each given an opportunity to question their opponents during last week’s debate. Some sparks flew between Feerick and Rosasco because Feerick challenged his petitions and the State Supreme Court ruled he did not meet the requirements to stay on the ballot. Rosasco is now running as a write-in candidate rather than appealing the court’s decision.

“Can I be here?” Rosasco asked Feerick during the debate to which she replied: “There are rules that apply and we have to make sure the standards apply across the board.”

Gioia, who was first elected in 2001, is running in the city public advocate race rather than seeking a third Council term.

A full video of the debate is available online at our new political site, BoroPolitics.com.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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