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Contenders for Liu’s seat clash in spirited debate

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Seven candidates vying to replace City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) debated parks and preservation issues in Flushing last week and set off some early fireworks in what isalready a heated race.

The candidates discussed their positions on bolstering green space, affordable housing, reviving the Kissena Park freshwater ecosystem and landmarking issues, but also took some personal jabs at one another in the process.

Democrats John Choe, Yen Chou, S.J. Jung, Isaac Sasson and James Wu joined Republican Peter Koo and Green Party candidate Evergreen Chou in participating in the event, hosted by the Queens Civic Congress at the Al Oerter Recreation Center near Flushing Meadows Corona Park June 24.

Sasson started the political jousting early by calling into question how long several of the candidates have lived in the Council district as he discussed preservation of local parks.

“We have a wonderful area, so I urge some of my fellow candidates who have just moved to the area to run for office to visit some of these places,” Sasson said.

Residency came up several times throughout the evening, with Sasson and Wu taking aim at Yen Chou, Jung and Koo in particular, at one point prompting Chou to snap that she has lived in the area for more than 15 years.

Jung dismissed the criticism.

“Of course, I live in the district,” he said. “I’ve lived other places, I’ve lived a lot of places. I’m an immigrant. But I think what’s more important is what I’ve done in the community over the last two decades.”

When asked about preserving and bolstering parks space in the district, Wu said in addition to lobbying the city for extra funding, reaching out to civic groups to fund or volunteer for maintenance projects in economically rough times is a viable option.

“Right now, we’re going to have a lot of problems and we’ve got to find every way we can to fix them,” Wu said. “A lot of us aren’t going to be going on vacations these days anyway, so maybe spending time in our parks isn’t such a bad thing.”

All of the candidates said they would support resurrecting a creek that once ran from Flushing Bay east through Kissena Park to enhance green space in the area, but Choe and Koo wondered about such a project’s viability.

“I realize that in some ways that considering the density of development in the area this may be improbable,” Choe said. “But a partial restoration funded through a developer is something I would certainly support.”

Yen Chou, meanwhile, said she would work toward increasing the presence of the city Landmarks Commission in Queens.

“The way that the Landmarks Commission treats Queens is like a red-headed stepchild: It doesn’t pay attention to it. We need to change that,” she said.

Chou was applauded by Choe when he gave his opinion on preserving and expanding affordable housing units in Queens through means like inclusionary zoning. “You need to stand right on top of these developers. You need to make them understand that the developers need us, we don’t need the developers,” Chou said.

Koo said the best way to insure that affordable housing projects are attractive to developers is to offer tax incentives.

“The community has to gain, the city has to gain and the developer has to gain too,” he said. “It has to be win-win-win.”

District 20 encompasses the communities of Flushing, Queensboro Hill, Mitchell Gardens, Kissena Park, Harding Heights and Auburndale and a portion of Whitestone.

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at sstirling@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

Posted 6:32 pm, October 10, 2011
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