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McLaughlin eyes new area as district lines are moved

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Late last month state Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin (D-Flushing) met with a group of leaders from the Sikh Cultural Society at a Lefferts Boulevard Indian restaurant to discuss ways he could help them rebuild their 118th Street temple, which was destroyed by fire March 8.

“We met from 7:30 to 12 midnight, agonizing and discussing possibilities and breaking bread,” McLaughlin said.

The meeting capped the assemblyman’s sixth straight night in Richmond Hill. Thrust into the area by the state assembly redistricting plan, McLaughlin has wasted no time in familiarizing himself with neighborhood leaders, many of whom are Sikh or Indo-Caribbean, and their concerns.

Even before the new lines were voted upon, McLaughlin showed up at a Richmond Hill East Business Persons Corp. meeting on the redistricting process just to introduce himself and “say hello” to his prospective constituents.

McLaughlin, whose present 25th Assembly District covers downtown Flushing, will be running for re-election in a new area that extends from southern Whitestone all the way to Richmond Hill if the proposed district lines survive inevitable lawsuits.

Most of his current district lies within the proposed 22nd Assembly District, which is 53 percent Asian under the assembly plan.

McLaughlin has constructed his tour of Richmond Hill with the same unorthodox but successful, blueprint he used while campaigning in Flushing.

“A lot of people go into areas and campaign where votes are. In Flushing I went where votes weren’t,” he said. “I haven’t gone where prime voting numbers are highest, I’ve gone where needs are highest, where government hasn’t been as friendly.”

On Sunday, McLaughlin’s William Jefferson Clinton Democratic Club of Queens endorsed Uma SenGupta, who was born in India, for district leader in the 25th Assembly District. During a special ceremony at a Sikh temple on 101st Avenue in Richmond Hill, McLaughlin announced SenGupta’s candidacy and also received an award for his efforts of behalf of the borough’s south Asian community.

The assemblyman, who is president of the Central Labor Council of the AFL-CIO, said his relationship with Richmond Hill’s Sikh and Indo-Caribbean communities dates back to 1999, when he co-chaired a commission with the late John Cardinal O’Connor on the dignity of immigrants. Among others, he met leaders of the Sikh Cultural Society.

Now, he is hoping to help them rebuild their temple, which was more than just a house of worship. Sikhs are temporarily conducting services in a smaller facility next door as officials continue to investigate the cause of the fire. Foul play has been ruled out.

The gutted building, a half-block complex at 95-30 118th St., also housed bedrooms, a 15,000-book library, a computer lab and a large kitchen that served thousands of people each weekend.

“He came with an open mind and he offered not only his help but the help of his staff,” said Sikh Cultural Society Chairman Harpreet Singh Toor. “Whatever he can do to help the community with the reconstruction project, he’s going to do.”

McLaughlin has assisted the Sikhs as they begin to map out a strategy to secure any city, state or federal financing that may be available to jump-start the rebuilding process. The temple sustained more than $12 million in damages, only a fraction of which will be covered by insurance, Toor said.

“I’m trying to demonstrate it’s not just about the votes,” McLaughlin said, “but about relationships and wanting to serve.”

Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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