SE Queens insulted by Palin remark

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Southeast Queens activists and leaders are fuming over what they called a dishonest jab from Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin aimed at community grassroots campaigns.

During her acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention last week, the Alaska governor made a sarcastic remark about Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Barack Obama's (D-Ill.) experience as a community activist in Chicago.

"I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities," she told a crowd of amused delegates.

Neighborhood leaders in southeast Queens, like Community Board 12 Chairwoman Adoja Gzifa, were not laughing at the quip.

Gzifa said communities like Jamaica, St. Albans and Springfield Gardens have greatly improved over the years, thanks to the hard work of organized residents.

"I've been out here a number of years working in this community, trying to help people. Once you help people and bring them up, they move up and help others," she said.

Peter Feldman, a spokesman for the presidential campaign of U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), said the vice presidential candidate did not mean any ill toward neighborhood groups.

"There is certainly a place for community activism, as demonstrated by Gov. Palin's own record of civic involvement, but Barack Obama's role as a community organizer pales in comparison to Gov. Palin's demonstrated experience," he said in an e-mailed statement.

Gzifa, a Democrat, cited Palin's civic involvement as a sign that the Alaskan governor was a hypocrite.

Minutes before she made her remark about community organizers in her speech, the mother of five said, "I was just your average hockey mom and signed up for the PTA because I wanted to make my kids' public education better."

"That's community organizing, right?" Gzifa asked.

The chairwoman said has always been impressed with how activists in her area, many of whom are working class minorities, organize successful efforts for their neighbors despite having few resources. She noted that many city politicians started out as civic organizers.

"They built those skills over the years," she said. "Many use their own money to organize their groups."

Gzifa pointed out that community groups were vital in southeast Queens in the recent shutdown of a St. Albans slaughterhouse. From April to August, residents protested outside the poultry market located at 126-24 Farmers Blvd., next door to many private dwellings, and advocated for the city and state to find ways to shut it down.

Last month, the governor passed a law that prohibited slaughterhouses from opening within 1,500 feet of homes and the slaughterhouse was prevented from opening. State Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-St. Albans), who worked with civic associations and residents to halt the slaughterhouse from opening, said he was also offended by Palin's remark, even if it was meant to be sarcastic.

"They are the unsung heroes of our community and any community," he said of community organizers. "They are trying to make a political point at the expense of hardworking people."

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

Posted 6:38 pm, October 10, 2011
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