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Queens pols bid adieu to colleague Rhodd-Cummings

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Elected borough officials, community leaders and others who knew and loved Pauline Rhodd-Cummings gathered at a Brooklyn church Thursday where the assemblywoman was remembered as a soft-spoken but effective advocate for the southeast Queens communities she represented.

Much of the Queens delegation for the state Assembly and many other borough officials turned out for the funeral of Rhodd-Cummings, who died of cancer Jan. 27 at her longtime home in Far Rockaway. She was 56.

Rhodd-Cummings was elected to the 31st Assembly District in a 1998 special election when U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans) vacated the seat to run his congressional campaign.

A native of the island of Jamaica, Rhodd-Cummings was the first woman of Caribbean descent to win election to the Assembly.

“Not only was she a proud Jamaican national but her vigor, determination and passion about the work that had to be done on behalf of her constituents in Far Rockaway and southeastern Queens made her a force in the Assembly,” Meeks said in a press lease issued after the service.

Rhodd-Cummings represented Far Rockaway, Rosedale, Springfield Gardens, South Ozone Park and part of Richmond Hill.

In addition to Meeks, U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills), Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, many other city officials and the consul general of Jamaica, Dr. Basil Bryan, attended Rhodd-Cummings’ funeral at the Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew in Brooklyn.

Bryan brought messages of condolence from the Jamaican government and spoke about Rhodd-Cummings’ commitment to economic development, education and to her daughter, Andrea.

One of the assemblywo­man’s brothers, Keith Rhodd, told the congregation about how Pauline used to pick on their older brother Victor, even though she had little chance of physically overpowering him.

“She was not easily defeated,” Rhodd said of his sister. “She was an optimist.” He said Pauline was always protective of her younger brother Easton and sister Audrey.

Her work as a community activist was also close to her heart, her brother said.

“She loved her job. Whenever she spoke about her work, there was so much animation in her voice,” he said.

Many politicians gathered in the back of the church and shared stories about Rhodd-Cummings before the service.

State Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Rockaway Beach) met Rhodd-Cummings more than a decade ago when both women were involved with the Deerfield Area Association Inc. in Far Rockaway.

“Her vision was to help the community,” Pheffer said of Rhodd-Cummings. “She was always a community activist.”

Rhodd-Cummings began attending Community Board 14 meetings in Far Rockaway as president of the Deerfield Area Association and soon Jonathan Gaska, the board’s district manager, challenged her to run for a seat on the board.

Rhodd-Cummings not only won election to the board but went on to serve as chairwoman of the nominating committee and co-chair of the economic development committee.

“She was a rising star on the board and she didn’t have an agenda other than helping the community,” Gaska said. “This is a sad day for the Rockaways.”

Several of her colleagues in the Assembly remarked on Rhodd-Cummings’ dedication to her constituents.

“She was persistent in trying to make things happen for her community. She was well accepted and worked very well with her colleagues,” state Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village) said.

Gary Hillierd, a member of St. John’s Hospital’s Political Action Committee, chimed in to say that Rhodd-Cummings helped the Far Rockaway hospital in its darkest hour: when the institution was bankrupt and more than $100 million in dept.

“We lived in her office during our bankruptcy,” Hillierd said, “She had a great spirit. She never turned us away.”

Many people mentioned that Rhodd-Cummings was soft-spoken and polite but an effective legislator.

State Sen. Ada Smith (D-Jamaica) joked that the assemblywoman “was totally the opposite of me” because she was so quiet.

State Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Bayside) called Rhodd-Cummings “a really classy lady” and added, “I never knew anyone to have a bad thing to say about her.”

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

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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