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Titus, Cook meet challengers in Assembly elections

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After besting five opponents in the Democratic primary election in September, state Assemblywoman Michele Titus (D-Far Rockaway) still has three challengers to face on November’s ballot.

Although political hopefuls Bryan Block and Michael Duvalle did not earn the Democratic slot in the September primary, they are pursuing other party lines to remain on the ballot, with Block running as a Conservative and Duvalle as an Independent. Republican Marina Rejas has also joined the race against Titus.

Elsewhere in south Queens, state Assemblywoman Vivian Cook (D-South Ozone Park) is also facing a challenger for a second time. Rachel Gordon, who lost to Cook in the primary, has been endorsed by the Independent party for the November vote.

In September, Titus received nearly half of the votes cast in the 31st Assembly District, which covers parts of South Ozone Park, Richmond Hill, Springfield Gardens, Far Rockaway and Laurelton. Block, a former staffer for state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) garnered 10 percent of the vote and Rockaways real estate agent Duvalle drew 8 percent of the votes.

As the only Republican, Rejas, a 25-year resident of South Ozone Park and a school aide and education assistant in public schools, did not have a primary election.

Titus was elected in a special election in April in which she faced Duvalle and Rejas. In her months in office, Titus has brought back $700,000 in funds for community organizations and $100,000 for transportation enhancements in the district, she said.

Titus has been an outspoken opponent of the city’s decision to put a family homeless shelter in the bankrupt Carlton House hotel near Kennedy Airport, saying the influx of 1,000 people, including 400 children, will affect the community resources, especially at area schools, and economic development.

Block, 45, is a longtime activist in Far Rockaway, and in the primary election he ran on the “E-H factor,” referring to his focus on education and health issues.

Block cited rising prescription costs and lack of health insurance among the health care problems. He also pointed to affordable housing as a priority, saying people in the district cannot find a decent place to live because the area lacks housing for middle income residents, he said.

Block would also like to start a ferry service from the Rockaways to Lower Manhattan and to solve noise pollution issues with JFK Airport.

Duvalle is facing Titus for the third time, and while he hopes the outcome this time will be in his favor, he realizes he has a difficult road ahead.

“You have to be a Democrat to win this,” he said. “In the primary, there were too many of us and we split the votes.”

Duvalle, an Arverne resident, is billing himself as the education candidate, and if elected he would create an educational fund that the state’s lottery could feed, he said. He also 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 dirty.

Rejas, is challenging Titus again after an unsuccessful campaign in April. Rejas, the Republican candidate, received just 78 of the 1,308 votes in the special election.

Rejas, who did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment, believes more money needs to be set aside for education from after-school programs to teacher salaries, she told the TimesLedger in April. She also cited school employment programs for high school students as a priority, although she did not have details on how to include the program.

In the 32nd Assembly District, which covers parts of South Jamaica, Jamaica, South Ozone Park, Ozone Park and Richmond Hill, incumbent Cook received 77 percent of the primary vote against Gordon, who got 22 percent.

Cook was elected to the state Legislature in 1990, and Gordon is one of the first challengers she has had since. Cook has been a longtime advocate for revitalization, including projects like the Rockaway Boulevard Local Development Corporation, a planned Rochdale Village youth center and a remanufacturing program at York College that would teach students to remake old auto parts.

Cook has supported various building and reconstruction projects, including the building of an extension to Baisley Pond Park at 150th Street in South Jamaica, she said.

As a first-time candidate, Gordon, a 41-year-old South Jamaica native, is grateful to have a second chance to get her name and platforms out, she said.

“You have to take advantage of what has been given to you and to utilize it to the best of your ability,” she said.

Gordon, a co-founder of the Business Leaders of Tomorrow, a non-profit youth group, pledges to fight budget cuts in education, establish affordable day care in the area and address the problem of homelessness, she said. She would also like to find funds to build youth centers and a women’s health center in the district, she said.

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

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