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Kerry visits York College to discuss his election bid

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Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. John Kerry came to Jamaica’s York College Monday afternoon in what was seen by many as a reward to a borough congressman who came out early to support the veteran legislator’s campaign.

Kerry, who also visited the borough to pick up the endorsement of the powerful Queens County Democratic Organization, thanked U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans) for his early support before talking to an audience of hundreds about the economy, education and health care.

“New York may have gotten A-Rod, but I have got Greg Meeks,” the senator said in reference to the Yankees’ recent acquisition of Major League Baseball superstar Alex Rodriguez.

The Queens County Democratic Organization’s outpouring of support for and endorsement of Kerry came just days after the group’s first choice, former Gov. Howard Dean, dropped out of the race following losses in all of the early primary contests. Kerry, the front-runner in the race to challenge incumbent President George W. Bush, spoke to hundreds of his newfound supporters at the town hall event.

“We are ready for March 2,” Kerry said of the state’s Super Tuesday primary election. “This is the most important election in our generation.”

Elected officials from throughout the borough came to see the Massachusetts Democrat talk about his proposals to lower unemployment and stimulate growth in the nation’s economy. Sitting in the middle of the audience, Kerry used the town hall forum to highlight the challenges he could face in the November general election against Bush.

“We are here at York College to mark the beginning of the end of the Bush presidency,” Kerry said, just hours after attending an event in Harlem.

Borough President Helen Marshall said she was happy Queens’ Democrats chose to support Kerry. She said candidate Kerry would be the best president to deal with the issues facing borough residents.

“I need somebody at the top who is going to make this work,” Marshall said. “We need experience. And we need to go quickly ’cause we got to beat Bush.”

Kerry is still facing challenges from U.S. Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and the Rev. Al Sharpton of Brooklyn in his presidential bid.

Queens Democrats had been largely united behind Dean when the field was larger in the early stages of the race.

State Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D-Little Neck) was a supporter of U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), while U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Kew Gardens) endorsed former Gen. Wesley Clark.

Meeks was the only member of the Queens County Democratic Organization to endorse Kerry outright about a year ago, and he was rewarded for his choice by being selected to introduce the senator. Meeks offered the audience at York a hint of why he chose to endorse Kerry.

“He (Kerry) has been able to unify this country already,” Meeks said while referring to Kerry’s previous primary victories throughout the country. “With Bush, we got the raw deal.”

Meeks’ congressional delegation represents a majority of southeast Queens.

Borough President Helen Marshall said she was happy the party decided to back Kerry. She said the senator has pledged to help the borough’s small businesses and will promote ventures to get more money into Queens’ minority communities.

Kerry said during the forum that he wants to target Queens and other such locales with an infusion of federal dollars to stimulate the creation of new jobs. He said he also plans to erase Bush’s tax cut for the richest Americans to introduce more capital into the nation’s treasury.

Weiner formally endorsed Kerry in a statement sent to reporters. The congressman is a major player in the state’s Democratic congressional delegation.

“To win in November, Democrats need a nominee who is battle tested, both literally and politically,” Weiner said. “John Kerry has the record to withstand whatever George Bush throws at him during the campaign and the experience to lead our country through troubled times once he wins back the White House.”

Kerry, using his platform at York College to discuss education, said he wants to create a $4,000 tax credit for college entrants to make higher education more attainable to more Americans. He also later said at the forum that the first piece of legislation he would introduce to Congress upon his election as president would be to create a form of universal health care for Americans.

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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