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Meng challenges Young for Dem spot on Assembly ballot

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Thrust against a state and national backdrop where the battle between Democrats and Republicans is king, two candidates from the same party are preparing to fight for the 22nd Assembly District in Flushing, which is shaping up to be the most hotly contested primary battle in Queens.

Incumbent state Assemblywoman Ellen Young (D-Flushing) is facing a strong challenge from attorney Grace Meng in the Sept. 9 Democratic primary. While many campaigns are shaped by issues, the 22nd District race could be decided not by what Young or Meng believes in, but how well they can execute their vision for the community.

Both share similar platforms. At a debate held at the LaGuardia Sheraton East in downtown Flushing in August, each candidate stressed the importance of increasing funding for affordable housing and education while boosting access to public health care and public services for senior citizens.

Only when asked about former Gov. Eliot Spitzer's failed legislation that would have granted all New York residents, including illegal immigrants, state I.D. cards did the candidates differ — Young supports the idea, Meng does not.

But as the campaign season has lurched forward, both candidates have focused less on what they will do if elected and more on how well they will do it.

Young has touted her track record in her first term as assemblywoman, saying she has not only delivered on what she set out to do in her first two years as an elected official, but has laid the groundwork for an even more productive second term.

"I'm a fighter," Young said. "I've been breaking barriers all the time. My proven track record is going to speak for itself."

But Meng contends that Young's record shows her as little more than a unimaginative legislator who is more concerned about being elected to a second term than helping her constituency.

"To me, when I see her record of legislation, it makes me think of someone who was merely thinking of re-election," Meng said. "Legislation should be thought about in quality, not quantity."

The September primary will mark the second time the two candidates have faced off for the seat. Meng was slated to run for the seat in 2006 but was forced off the ballot after Young challenged her residency status. Young went on to defeat former City Councilwoman Julia Harrison and Korean community organizer Terence Park, who are now running with Meng for district leader seats.

Since her election, five bills authored by Young have been passed by the state Legislature, including legislation to include acupuncturists in the state workers compensation program and another placing firmer Internet restrictions on convicted sexual predators.

Last week, Young also announced that she had secured $125,000 in state funds to help purchase two Flushing buildings that will be preserved for affordable housing.

"I'd like to see affordable health care for everyone, less people coming to my office and crying that they've been priced out of their apartments, less kids dropping out of school, safer street and safer neighborhoods," she said. "There's still much more that can be done."

Meng operates a community center in downtown Flushing and said that though she has not held public office, she believes her work in the community has outpaced Young's. Meng said she has provided services to more than 3,000 Flushing residents in the last two years alone.

"That's something Ellen talks a lot about. But when people come and see me, a lot of them tell me when they go to her office, she just refers them to John [Liu's] office," Meng said. "And John is great, he's very energetic. I just wish she could be as independent and energetic as he is."

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, ext. 138.

Posted 6:37 pm, October 10, 2011
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