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Flushing forum excludes Democrats’ opponents

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An event billed as a candidates’ forum for the National Council of Jewish Woman at Temple Sholom in Flushing turned out to be simply a speaking engagement for Democratic borough president candidate Helen Marshall and Democrat city council candidate John Liu.

The other candidates in the two races were not invited to the event, even though two of Liu’s opponents in the contest to succeed City Councilwoman Julia Harrison (D-Flushing) — Green Party candidate Paul Graziano and Independent candidate Martha Flores-Vazquez — showed up.

The GOP candidate for borough president, City Councilman Al Stabile (R-Ozone Park), did not receive an invitation.

The meeting became a bit heated when Liu, who is a Taiwanese American, answered the audience’s questions about his plans to alleviate the tensions between the longtime Flushing residents and many of the Asian shop owners.

Nobody at the meeting organized by Jeanette Miller could give a specific answer why none of the other candidates were asked to attend.

“I find it very funny that you didn’t invite the only woman in the race and the only person of Jewish origin to an organization that prides itself on equality,” Graziano said, referring to Flores- Vazquez and himself. “You should have invited the other candidates.”

Graziano’s remarks caused a bit of an uproar among the members of the organization who pushed to have Flores-Vazquez and Graziano introduce themselves and offer up a few sentences on the issues affecting the Flushing council district, which they did.

Marshall talked about her priorities for the borough over the next few years, including education, transportation, housing and economic development.

When questioned about how realistic her plans were, Marshall said “most do not cost much.”

She conceded that her transportation plan to add more bus lines in the borough would require some funds, but she stressed that the lines were necessary for Queens, which has a severe shortage of public transportation.

Marshall also called for the construction of more affordable housing. She suggested building apartments where 20 percent of the unites are for lower-income residents.

In Queens, which has the largest elderly population in the city, Marshall said building affordable assisted-living facilities is another priority. That plan drew cheers from the elderly audience.

The meeting turned somewhat contentious after Liu outlined his plans for the 20th Council District and focused on cleaning up downtown Flushing, which has become a bustling retail center filled with Asian shops and restaurants in the last 20 years.

Despite its vitality, downtown Flushing has been the target of heavy criticism from the surrounding community because of dirty streets, crime often related to Asian gangs and the lack of signs in English.

“A lot of places in Flushing have gone downhill over the years, especially downtown Flushing,” Liu said. “I am not sure I would let my son go to downtown Flushing because of safety reasons and the filth.”

He said the crowds have changed since he was a kid and would stroll into the neighborhood from his home to get a slice of pizza with an Italian ice. He said one of his goals as the district’s councilman would be to bring back the Flushing he remembers.

Several white members of the audience told Liu they were made to feel uncomfortable going into Asian stores and restaurants in Flushing.

“What upsets me,” one woman said, “is there are shops in the Asian community that make me feel that they don’t want my business.”

Liu said he did not condone this type of behavior and promised to shut down any businesses that had racist practices. He also said he would start a program to give Flushing stores a community stamp of approval, which would let people know that the shops welcomed all customers.

The dearth of signs in English in Flushing also drew the ire of some of the organization’s members, while others compared the area to the Lower East Side in the early 1900s when all the signs were written in Yiddish.

“I wish the signs were in English,” Liu said, “so I could go in.”

When questioned about the prostitution rings that have been growing in downtown Flushing, Liu said they have no place in the district and he “would close them down.”

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

Posted 7:25 pm, October 10, 2011
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