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Sears celebrates re-election to Council district

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"For 26 years, Helen has represented this area with a fire that burns within her," U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said of Sears, a longtime Democratic district leader who first won her Council seat in 2001.Schumer was just one of several Democratic heavyweights, including U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills), Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and new Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), who praised Sears for her commitment to her district during the event at the sleek Bulova Corporate Center in Jackson Heights Sunday.The ceremony, bookended by prayers from Catholic, Jewish and Buddhist leaders at the beginning and a classical Thai dance at the end, was crafted to reflect the range of ethnic and religious groups that compose what Sears called her "cosmopolitan district."Weiner hit the same note."I think you may represent the most diverse political subdivision in the entire country, if not the entire world," he told Sears.Sears reflected on the challenges that the new Council class faced taking office months after Sept. 11, 2001."The streets down at Broadway and City Hall, they had to be hosed down every hour," she said of the devastation that followed the attacks. "In a few months, we had to deal with a budget with the most severe cuts that any elected official was asked to do."But Sears said the Council met those challenges "with a passion and zeal never before seen in the history of our great city.""Today, although we are not out of our problems, I think we have lit a torch and that torch is burning," she said.Sears also set forth her plans for her final term before she is forced out by term limits after 2009. She will continue as chairwoman of the Women's Issues Committee and she volunteered to head the Council's special task force on hospital closings."My focus is going to be on health care, it's going to be on development," she said, noting that development can be a controversial topic."The challenge with development is how do you maintain the integrity of communities," she said, "while at the same time nourish the development-the land that is fertile [and] needs to be developed."Quinn praised Sears for volunteering to direct the task force on hospital closings, noting that the position, unlike committee chairmanships, does not give members extra pay."She does this work for all the right reasons, because she cares deeply about people and most deeply about people who don't have the resources to advocate for themselves," Quinn said.Most of the assembled leaders said they had a long history with Sears, from her many years as a Democratic district leader from Jackson Heights. Marshall said she had even taught Sears's son in nursery school."She has integrity," Marshall said. "She's not power-hungry."Some at the ceremony characterized Sears's re-election as the next step, but not the last, in Sears's political career."Knowing you, and knowing how great you are, as good as you have been, the best is yet to come," Schumer said.Quinn agreed. "I know these next four years will not be the last four years Helen will have serving the people of Queens," she said.Reach reporter John Tozzi by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300 Ext. 188.

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