Today’s news:

Assembly election set for Tuesday to fill vacant seat

A special election is planned Tuesday to fill the District 31 state assembly seat in southeast Queens left vacant by the death of Pauline Rhodd-Cummings earlier this year.

The three candidates on the ballot are Democrat Michele Titus, Republican Marina Rejas, and Independent Michael Duvalle.

Lifelong resident and former Bronx Assistant District Attorney Charles Pringle filed a petition to be placed on the ballot under the People’s Party, but his candidacy was rejected for lack of signatures, said Naomi Bernstein, spokeswoman for the New York City Board of Elections.

The 31st Assembly District, which covers South Ozone Park, Richmond Hill, Springfield Gardens, Far Rockaway and Laurelton, faces a number of issues, including education, crime and the AirTrain rail system linking Jamaica Center to John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Rejas, a 25-year resident of South Ozone Park and a public school aide and education assistant, said she believes more money needs to be set aside for schools.

“We should invest a little bit more in after-school programs and teachers salaries -- they do not get paid enough,” she said.

Rejas also cited employment programs for high school students as a topic that needs addressing, although she gave no details on incorporating the programs into the schools.

Duvalle, an Independent and Conservative candidate who ran against Rhodd-Cummings for this Assembly seat in 2000, wants to nip the problem in the bud, he said, by strengthening the Board of Education.

“It’s become too politically controlled,” Duvalle said. “Education is paramount and that’s been lacking. Our kids are not learning.”

He also wants to give principals greater control over minor criminal incidents. Duvalle said principals should know the students better than the police and would be able to say if the student is a trouble-maker or if a mistake was made. For example, if a girl comes to school with a knife in a jacket pocket, the principal should be able to consider if the student borrowed the jacket, he said.

“We need more education, not incarceration,” said Duvalle.

Michele Titus, a Democratic district leader and lawyer, was unavailable for comment. Titus, who is also running on the Liberal and Working Families parties, favors smaller class sizes, according to her election pamphlet.

Rejas supports the AirTrain project provided it gives something back to the area.

“It passes through my community,” she said. “I believe that if you’re passing through the neighborhood, the least that you can do is employ the residents.”

Duvalle agrees, but sees no redeeming qualities in the project, he said.

“It a total waste,” he said. “It’s only accommodating people from Long Island. It will not alleviate the traffic on the Van Wyck Expressway. It will make it worse.”

If the AirTrain included a local stop between the end points – Archer Avenue and JFK Airport – it might serve the community better, Duvalle said.

Polls will be open 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday. For poll locations, call the New York City Board of Elections at 212-VOTE-NYC.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 138.

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