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Leffler’s seat draws 3 hopefuls

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As the race to replace City Councilman Sheldon Leffler (D-Hollis) heads into the last four weeks of the campaign before the Sept. 11 primary, all three candidates are sounding very much alike on the issues affecting the district.

Republican Philip Sica, 66, a retired city marshal and pastor who worked for the city for 24 years; Democrat Jairam Thakral, 64, the first Indian-American candidate for the 23rd Council District and chief financial officer at Long Island State Veterans Home at SUNY at Stonybrook; and Democrat David Weprin, 44, a lawyer and son of Queens political icon Saul Weprin are vying to be the first new council member for the district in 24 years.

They all said education was the issue on the mind of the majority of the residents in the area and offered up similar plans to solve the problem.

The seat covers quite a diverse area. The district, which includes South Asians, Jews, blacks, Italians, Hispanics and West Indians, stretches from Glen Oaks to Fresh Meadows and from Little Neck to Queens Village as well as covering Bellerose, Floral Park, Hollis and parts of Bayside.

“Education is the important issue and I am the only candidate who wants to experiment with charter schools and vouchers,” Sica said. “I am willing to experiment because obviously the system has not worked well.”

He said he agreed with Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s plan to abolish the Board of Education and place it under the mayor’s jurisdiction. Sica said he wants people to be held accountable.

Illegal housing and basement apartments in the district are other problems that concern Sica. He said he wants to enforce the laws against illegal housing, which he said affects the quality of life in the district.

Sica said that as a Republican he also wants to maintain the programs the mayor has implemented over the past 7 1/2 years like keeping taxes and the budget down.

Thakral agreed with Sica on abolishing the Board of Ed.

“I think the most important issue for the district is education,” Thakral said. “We need to decentralize the Board of Education because it cannot run the school system from Livingston Street.”

He said there has also been a lack of communication between Leffler and the community. Thakral said many people do not know who their elected officials are and there is “no connection.”

Thakral cited public safety as another problem facing the district. He said people are afraid to open their windows and there needs to be more of a police presence.

The way to solve other problems in the district would be to provide the borough and district with enough funding to build affordable housing and fix the street throughout the district, he said.

Weprin, who has received a large number of union endorsements — DC 37, the PBA, UFT and 1199 — had similar views on the changes that need to be made to improve the quality of life in the district.

“Obviously, education is the No. 1 issue in the district,” said Weprin, “District 26 gets the highest test scores in the city but is penalized because of the excellent scores. The money is unfairly given to the least performing districts.”

He said District 26 and District 29, both performing above average, are short changed in educational funding. He said both districts are also severely overcrowded and something needs to be done.

He proposed converting existing buildings that are not being properly used into classroom space. Weprin also cited a need in the district for affordable housing to accommodate the middle class and the elderly. He said there should be more police officers in the district.

In the money race, Weprin leads the pack after raising $104,588 and collecting the maximum of $75,350 in matching funds, according to the Campaign Finance Board, He has spent $95,313, leaving $84,537 in the bank. Thakral has raised $44,380 and received $71,124 in matching funds. He has spent $63,440, leaving $51,064 in his war chest.

Sica, who does not have a primary, had not raised any money as of the most recent filing.

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

Posted 7:22 pm, October 10, 2011
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