Race to replace assemblywoman already crowded

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Before the funeral of Assemblywoman Rhodd-Cummings (D-Far Rockaway) was over last Thursday, several candidates had already begun to consider a run to replace her.

The city Board of Elections had yet to officially announce the anticipated special election when Michael Duvalle, the Rev. Henrietta Fullard, the Rev. Evan Gray, David Hooks and Michele Titus threw their hats in the ring for Rhodd-Cummings’ seat.

Fred Lewis, Taj Rajkumar and Ram Jodha were rumored to be in the running but could not be reached for comment by press time.

Some of the candidates considering a run for Rhodd-Cummings’ seat may not meet the residency requirement. Potential candidates must have lived in the district, which covers Far Rockaway, Rosedale, Springfield Gardens, South Ozone Park and part of Richmond Hill, for one year in order to qualify.

If there is a special election, the Queens County Democratic Party will pick the Democratic nominee. Some candidates may then chose to run as Republicans or third-party candidates against the Democrat.

Rhodd-Cummings would have been up for re-election in November. She was first elected in 1998 and then re-elected in 2000, when she captured 95 percent of the vote. Duvalle, who ran as an Independent, got 5 percent of the vote in that election.

Carol Howell, who ran against Rhodd-Cumming in the 2000 primary election, said she was not running this time because she is supporting Duvalle.

“Right now, I think he’s a good candidate, he’s up on the issues, that’s very important,” Howell said of Duvalle, who could not be reached for comment by press time.

Fullard, the former principal of the Campus Magnet School of Math and Science in Cambria Heights, mentioned the technical school Rhodd-Cummings had planned for Far Rockaway as a high priority for the district.

“This was her dream, to develop 6200 Beach Channel Drive, which she envisioned as a new home of a technical school,” Fullard said of Rhodd-Cummings’ plan.

Fullard, the pastor of the Bethel A.M.E. Church in Arverne, where she lives, said education was her first priority and economic development was a close second.

She recently ran for City Council in District 31 for Juanita Watkins’ seat, a post won by James Sanders, Jr.

Gray, who is the pastor of the Macedonia Baptist Church in Far Rockaway, also said he plans to continue Rhodd-Cummings’ project at 6200 Beach Channel Drive. if he is elected.

“That’s a No. 1 priority,” Gray said of the school Rhodd-Cummings fought to bring to the Rockaways. “I really feel in honoring her they should name that school after her.”

Hooks, a Far Rockaway resident who works for the State University of New York’s Queens Educational Opportunities Building in Jamaica, said he is trying to secure the endorsement of the Queens Democratic Party.

Hooks also ran for former Watkins’ council seat last year, an experience which he said helped him become more visible in the community.

If elected, Hooks said he would make education a top priority, specifically school construction. He said he would fight to get emergency funds to build new schools.

“It’s shameful that the classroom space has not been kept in sync with the number of houses being built,” Hooks said. “The urban planners were asleep at the wheel.”

Titus gained some unlikely support from one of her potential Democratic competitors this week when Gray said he would not run against Titus if the Queens Democratic Party endorsed her.

“I really feel that Michele is definitely qualified. I have no problem is supporting her,” Gray said.

Titus is the female district leader in the 31st Assembly District, Park B.

“It comes to the district leaders of the part to decide who they would designate,” Titus said of the special election, “and I have indicated to them that I am interested.”

An education attorney, Titus worked in the Assembly for seven years as the director of the Black and Puerto Rican Legislative Caucus.

Titus, who recently ran for City Council in District 28 for Thomas White’s seat and lost to Allan Jennings, said that if she were elected to the Assembly, she would carry on with the projects Rhodd-Cummings had started.

Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 138.

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