Hooks, a job counselor with a Jamaica non-profit agency, earned the unanimous endorsement of the borough district leaders, who voted May 23 at the party's Forest Hills headquarters, since Sanders was not even nominated. Some residents of southeast Queens have complained that in the past few years the councilman has become inaccessible and unresponsive."Community members on both sides of the district have had those kinds of complaints," said Juanita Watkins, Sanders' predecessor and an area district leader. She said the criticism has been the same in the Rockaways as it has been in Springfield Gardens, Laurelton and Rosedale: that he has not listened to residents and has not met with them. "They feel they've been kind of alienated and they haven't been included," Watkins said.In late April, 26 constituents sent a signed letter to the Queens Democratic Party asking them to block the Sanders' endorsement. While he could not be reached for comment, Mike Reich, the executive secretary for the organization, told Newsday "he has just about everyone upset out there. We couldn't have stopped this if we'd wanted to."Sanders, a 47-year-old former Marine who headed the now-defunct School Board 27 and worked for former U.S. Rep. Floyd Flake, was first elected to the Council in 2001. In that race, he received more than twice as many votes in the primary as Charlotte Jefferson, the party-backed candidate, and finished far ahead of Hooks, who placed eighth. Sanders went on to receive party support in a redistricting election two year later, easily besting his lone Democratic challenger. One Laurelton resident, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said the community supported Sanders early in his tenure, but became disillusioned with their elected official after 2003, when he became unresponsive and did not attend civic meetings. The resident pointed to Sanders' chief of staff-now his fiancee-as a factor, describing her as a gatekeeper.Reached by telephone Friday, Sanders defended the professionalism of his fiancee and said the shift in community support was only among district leaders, whose sense of protocol he had offended."We were more focused on progress, on bringing things in," he said, noting that he had spent much of his time with the Economic Development Committee creating programs that would directly help his constituents. "The time had to come from somewhere," he said, promising to focus on the specific needs of civics groups in his next term.Sanders' challenger, the 60-year-old Hooks of Far Rockaway, works as a job counselor for the Queens Educational Opportunity Center in Jamaica and is one of the borough president's appointees to Community Education Council 27. He said he would retire from his job if elected and promised he would be available at least one late night each week for constituents."I'm reachable," Hooks said.While Hooks admitted he was "bloodied" in the 2001 race, he said he had the support this time around. Sanders, however, said he was not deterred."We are far stronger now than we were then," Sanders said of their previous face-off.Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@times
©2005 Community News Group
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