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SE Queens candidates tout education in assembly race

Six candidates for the 31st Assembly District in southeast Queens, including recently elected Michele Titus (D-Far Rockaway), have filed petitions to vie for the Democratic nomination in the primary, but some could be knocked off the ballot by challenges.

A total of seven candidates have filed petitions with the city Board of Elections for the district, which covers South Ozone Park, Richmond Hill, Springfield Gardens, Far Rockaway and Laurelton.

As of Tuesday, the Board of Elections was still hearing challenges from some Queens candidates who were trying to disqualify their competitors on the basis that the signatures on their petitions were not valid.

Titus, who won her seat in a special election in April, could face former Community Board 13 member Bryan Block, Rockaways real estate agent Michael Duvalle, the Rev. Henrietta Fullard, Bronx assistant district attorney Charles Pringle Jr., and Richmond Hill activist Taj Rajkumar for the Democratic nomination. A seventh candidate, Marina Rejas, is running on the Republican ticket.

Efforts to reach Block, Pringle and Rejas were unavailing.

Arverne’s Michael Duvalle is vying for the seat for the sixth time since 1996 and once again is billing himself as the education candidate. To help alleviate budgetary problems with the city’s school system, he proposed creating an educational fund that the state’s lottery would feed into.

Contending he is the candidate with the most innovative ideas, Duvalle, who lost the election to Titus in April, suggested creating a “Save Our Students,” or S.O.S. school, in Queens as a place to educate children with the most severe disciplinary problems. He also criticized the mayor for dissolving community school boards and effectively closing an avenue for parental input.

If elected, Duvalle hopes to arrange for an environmental agency to monitor the air quality in the area near Kennedy Airport, where he says the atmosphere can be very dirty. He also said he will pressure the airport to hire more workers from the Rockaways to make up for the air and noise pollution airplanes cause in southern Queens.

To help deal with the high cost of housing in the city, Duvalle, who now buys and sells real estate, said he would like to create a program that would offer low-income families money for a down payment on new homes.

Fullard, the former principal of Campus Magnet School of Math and Science in Cambria Heights, is also running as a Democrat and making education the centerpiece of her campaign. Fullard pointed to her success as a principal, vice principal and chemistry teacher and promised to find new ways to operate schools if elected.

“I’m not just talking reform and hoping it happens. I have actually implemented reform” in education, she said, adding that she would create more programs like the Home Health Aide Training, which teaches students to be in-house nurses.

Fullard, the pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church near her home in Arverne, who is running for the seat for the third time, is also making economic development and health care top priorities. She said families in the district have one of the lowest income levels in the city and among the highest rate of illness.

She suggested conducting studies to determine if the high percentage of diabetes, hypertension, infant mortality, and forms of cancer in the district are related to environmental problems in south Queens.

Education is also a priority for Rajkumar, an associate professor at Borough of Manhattan Community College who said he hopes to establish after-school programs and pre-college centers. Rajkumar also said he would like to set up community centers for immigration, business, and career information, where residents can get help understanding and accessing government programs.

“Sometimes they need help just filling out a simple form,” he said. “People need to know how to access the resources.”

Rajkumar said he also believes in the grassroots movement and hopes to create parental advisory groups where residents can meet with politicians and representatives from government agencies to discuss problems from schools to mosquitoes to sewers and flooding – all problems he has found in the district, he said.

As a Guyanese immigrant, Rajkumar, who faced Titus’ predecessor, Pauline Rhodd-Cummings, in 1998, said he has strong support from the immigrant community in Richmond Hill, and he hopes to make history by becoming the first Indo-Guyanese elected to the state Legislature.

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

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