Beep candidates face off at Bellerose public forum

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In a political forum sponsored by the TimesLedger newspapers and several northeast Queens civic associations, five of the seven candidates for Queens borough president and the four candidates for the District 23 City Council seat faced off at the Bellerose Jewish Center Tuesday night.

There were no fireworks at the meeting as each of the borough president candidates repeated their stands on why they should be elected to replace term-limited Claire Shulman. The five all touched on the borough’s two main problems, which each has continually discussed: police and education.

For the four city council candidates in the district, which stretches from Glen Oaks to Fresh Meadows and from Little Neck to Queens Village as well as Bellerose, Floral Park, Hollis and parts of Bayside, it was the first time they had appeared at a public forum in the race.

When questioned about economic development in Queens each candidate for borough president — former Board of Education President Carol Gresser, City Councilman Sheldon Leffler (D-Hollis), City Councilwoman Helen Marshall (D-East Elmhurst), state Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Rockaway) and Democratic community activist Haydee Zambrana — spoke of the borough’s need to continue to develop economically.

Two other candidates — City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) and City Councilman Alfonso Stabile (R-Ozone Park) — did not attend the forum

“We need to promote economic development,” Leffler said, “and establish a high-tech highway, build cable fiber optics, make use of the brown fields near Shea Stadium, create a transportation network, build schools and build homes.”

There should be an “integrated economic” policy for the borough to help all of Queens grow economically, Gresser said. She said there has been an economic revitalization in the Queens and the city, but the borough’s manufacturing base must be maintained.

Pheffer said the economic development of the borough is important, but the next borough president has to make sure that neighborhood businesses stay in the community. She said particular attention should be given to businesses in communities, such as Jamaica and the Rockaways.

“We have a lot of areas that still need developing. Jamaica Avenue could still use a lot of development,” Marshall said. “We need industry in our borough and we have industry in our borough. We don’t have as much manufacturing as we used to and we have some manufacturing areas that we need to protect to let them grow.”

Zambrana talked about the necessity of developing and maintaining small businesses, which are vital to the borough’s economy. If elected, she wants to start a small business assistance program to help the owners grow their investments.

The four candidates for Leffler’s council seat, Bernice Siegal, J.D. Thakral, David Weprin and lone Republican Philip Sica, each tried to woo the crowd with their qualifications and how they are the best choice to lead the district.

When questioned about the proliferation of illegal housing throughout the district as well as all of Queens, each agreed that it was a plague for communities and a public hazard that must be stopped. They all suggested adding more housing inspectors and reworking zoning laws as a way of trying to control the problem.

The candidates differed on what should be done with the Board of Education, which now decides the educational direction of the five boroughs.

Siegal said the Board of Ed question is a contentious issue that affects the entire city. She said the city had decentralized the Board of Ed once before, but now elected officials must look at how to best educate students using smaller classes, more teachers and neighborhood schools.

“It has got to be decentralized,” said Thakral. “You will never solve the problem at 110 Livingston St.,” he said, as long as the Board of Ed is a giant bureaucracy that does not meet the different needs of each borough.

Weprin said he thought Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s plan to “blow up the Board of Ed” was not the best plan of action. But he also said he was not sure that complete decentralization of the Board of Ed was the answer.

“I support the concept of decentralization — it makes sense,” Sica said. “Education should be controlled on a county or boroughwide basis because eastern Queens is different than Manhattan.”

North Bellerose Civic Association, Bellerose Hillside Civic Association, Rocky Hill Civic Association and the Queens Colony Civic Association also sponsored the event.

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

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