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Early candidates jump-start city council race

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Her four years in the state Assembly were followed by a failed bid for Congress — having been trumped by Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) in 1998. Since then, Katz, 35, has been biding her...

By Jennifer Warren

For a few years now Melinda Katz has been waiting in the wings.

Her four years in the state Assembly were followed by a failed bid for Congress — having been trumped by Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) in 1998. Since then, Katz, 35, has been biding her time in the borough president’s office as director of community boards.

She is by most measures the strongest candidate for the 29th Council District, which spreads through Forest Hills, Rego Park and parts of Maspeth, Middle Village, Elmhurst and Richmond Hill. But she is not unchallenged.

Last week Norbert Chwat, a longtime Forest Hills resident and community board member who has spent much of his 76 years canvassing for other politicians, decided it was his turn to enter the political fray.

Chwat, who in 1999 with his wife Estelle founded the Forest Hills Action League, a neighborhood group that promotes quality-of-life issues and has a well-honed knack for drawing media attention to public concerns, decided enough was enough.

“I’ve lived here for 40 years. I’ve seen what’s happened to the community. I’ve seen through the eyes of the community board and I know what is and isn’t done,” Chwat said in an interview with the Times-Ledger.

In addition to his efforts to safeguard Queens Boulevard, Chwat said he plans to focus on the rat and other sanitary problems in the neighborhood, as well as what he considers unfair allocation of city funds to public libraries.

Katz, one of the principal leaders of Forest Hills’ Robert F. Kennedy Democratic Club founded by City Comptroller Alan Hevesi, has in addition to the support of the club’s 400 members amassed more than $113,000 in campaign contributions, according to records filed with the Campaign Finance Board. Chwat has yet to file any campaign contributions with the board.

Katz, speaking rapidly into the telephone during her lunch hour, said she would be “obviously running on my record.”

She was elected to the Assembly in 1994 and lost a bid for the congressional seat covering Forest Hills and other parts of western Queens to Weiner in 1997.

Her record includes the penning of 16 bills, now laws, which have enabled women under HMOs to have direct access to gynecological care. Katz also authored a bill that helps prosecutors of repeat child-abuse defendants to win convictions without exact dates of abuse.

Katz said legislation is key, but so is listening to constituents who should shape a candidate’s priorities.

“Housing is important,” she said. “Senior citizens have trouble with their landlords, getting their houses painted.”

Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), who is running for borough president and whose seat Katz and Chwat are both seeking, said she has yet to officially endorse a council candidate because more are likely to enter the field.

“Melinda has more name recognition, and that means something,” Koslowitz said this week. “I certainly hope [Chwat] has more issues than Queens Boulevard. There are many more issues that go on in the district — zoning, schools, senior citizens — that are very important.”

Reach reporter Jennifer Warren by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.

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