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Many run, but few show up - Most candidates miss Flatbush forum

As candidates for the City Council seat newly vacated by U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke covered the neighborhood in search of petition signatures to ensure their place on the ballot, only a handful bothered to show up at a candidates’ forum sponsored by a local Democratic club. Members of the 42nd Assembly District Democratic Club, which held its meeting at the Church of the Nativity, Ocean Avenue and Farragut Road, heard at their January meeting from Jennifer James, Harry Schiffman, Leithland “Rickie” Tulloch and Ferdinand “Freddy” Zizi, the four candidates who took time out of the very concentrated petitioning period to make their case with local activists. All, needless to say, tried to convince their listeners to vote for them. With the special election for the vacancy in the 40th Council District scheduled for February 20th, in the depths of winter, political insiders know that only the very hardiest souls are likely to come out to cast their ballots. Literally, in such a scenario, every vote counts. (In one Brooklyn special election a couple of years back, the victorious candidate emerged, three weeks after the polling, with a razor-thin margin of 31 votes.) James, who has worked with government officials for a number of years, most recently served on Clarke’s successful congressional campaign. She enunciated a series of issues that, she contended, were critical to Central Brooklyn. These include “quality health care.” Noted James, “We must be mindful of the need to find a way to expand opportunities to have access to what is already available.” Affordable housing is also a crucial issue, said James. Noting that the likely construction of Brooklyn Yards means that people from that area are going to be pushed further into the borough in search of a place to live, she stressed that this will up the ante for those who are already living here. “If we do not preserve affordable housing in the 40th district, this will force us to a place where we cannot afford to live in the district, where we have no voice in central Brooklyn.” A third issue touched on by James was public safety. Referring to the death of Sean Bell, she said, “That is something we never want to happen again.” One solution, she suggested, is pairing rookie cops with experienced ones. A fourth issue James enunciated touches on immigration. With so many people in the district who have come to this country from other places, she said that a municipal-federal partnership between the councilmember representing the district and Clarke, who will serve on the House’s Homeland Security Committee, would be beneficial. Zizi, for his part, spoke of his background in health care. To a large degree, he said, he had become interested in a broader range of issues because he realized, “We couldn’t successfully address health care without addressing education, without talking about affordable housing, without talking about public safety and so forth.” Why? Explained Zizi, because residents whose health care needs aren’t being met, often don’t focus on it, “Because they have other issues of concern to them where health care is never a priority.” His goal, he said, is to go to City Hall, “and bring the same passion and commitment to addressing issues of the community” as he has brought to health care. “I’m tired of politics as usual,” Zizi went on. “I want to bring a new type of leadership to City Hall, where we can address issues, take ownership of our streets, take ownership of our schools.” Tulloch, who has the backing of Assemblymember Rhoda Jacobs, pitched his candidacy on his years of experience working in and for the community. A member of Community Board 17 for the past 15 years, Tulloch told his listeners of some of his efforts in that capacity. These include pushing for the co-naming of Church Avenue as Bob Marley Boulevard, including the establishment of a Caribbean cultural center there, and the creation of a plan for contextually rezoning portions of CB 17 which are particularly vulnerable to over-development. Having the funds in the community to make changes is a key, said Tulloch. “I am committed to bringing resources to the community,” he told his listeners, “so we can address various issues,” such as immigration, affordable housing and health care. “I want to see funding restored so we can address asthma, AIDS, diabetes and hypertension,” he stressed. Tulloch pointed out that he has a bachelor’s degree in accounting, and a master’s in economics. This sort of background, he said, will enable him to “hit the ground running” in the City Council. Schiffman, the last to speak, is the only white Jewish candidate in the race. The director of government and community relations for Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, Schiffman reminded his listeners that he has lived in the district, in Prospect Park South, for the past eight years. Schiffman said that his background – which encompasses., “30 years of experience in community development” – makes him well-suited to be the next councilmember. Among the issues he has worked on, he said, are housing and economic development, as well as youth services. Schiffman promised dedication with a twist of wry humor. “I’m Jewish,” he remarked. “I will be a 24-hour, six-day-a-week councilman,” he told his listeners. “My background is community organizing,” Schiffman concluded. “This means I bring people together. The people who come together to solve issues, get the job done.” In the meantime, it was one of the candidates who did not show up for the forum – Dr. Mathieu Eugene – who appears to have snagged the endorsements of both Clarke and her mother, Una, who held the seat before her. The endorsements are important, because they likely bring with them the support of 1199 SEIU, a powerful union. But, while Eugene has the Clarkes’ endorsements, another candidate who did not attend the forum appears to have snagged the support of two other local elected officials. Wellington Sharpe, who works closely with City Councilmember Kendall Stewart, appears in line to get Stewart’s endorsement, as well as the endorsement of City Councilmember Lewis Fidler. Numerous other candidates are also striving to make the ballot, with a list that has been changing on almost a daily basis. Among them are Anthony Alexis, Victor Babb, Irshad Choudhry, Geoffrey Davis, Jesse Hamilton, Gerry Hopkins, Zenobia McNally, Mo Razvi and Joel Toney. If the winner of the seat is still certainly in doubt, at least the names of those who file petitions to be on the ballot will be known as of midnight on January 16th, after this paper goes to press, with a final list of candidates who survive petition challenges by early February. The election will be held on February 20th, and the winner will serve in the City Council till the end of 2007. There will be a primary in September, 2007, and a general election in November, for the person who will hold the position, beginning January 1, 2008, for the remainder of Clarke’s term.

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