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Media’s Aqueduct coverage was biased: SE boro leaders

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Southeast Queens activists said they were appalled that Albany killed a bid for the Aqueduct Race Track video lottery terminal project — and they pointed their fingers at the media for as the cause behind the economic blow to the community.

Speaking at a forum at Springfield Gardens High School April 15, some 80 residents and leaders joined in on a discussion that analyzed the way the city’s news organizations have been covering the controversial proceedings with the racino and how they thought the reporting was biased against the black community. The event was sponsored by the Coalition of Concerned Citizens of Southern Queens.

Leroy Gadsen, president of the Jamaica branch of the NAACP, said the failed bid translated into a potential loss of $8 billion in jobs for southeast Queens and called the scuttling of the offer from a group dominated by Queens investors unfair.

“When these things happen in this community, you have to stand up,” he said.

In February, Aqueduct Entertainment Group won the long-awaited contract to develop video lottery terminals at the Queens race track in Ozone Park. A few days after Gov. David Paterson made the decision, he met with the Rev. Floyd Flake, one of AEG’s investors and a political juggernaut in southeast Queens.

When a report on the meeting appeared in one of the daily newspapers, questions began to circulate about political maneuvering because Flake had indicated earlier that he was leaning toward supporting Paterson’s rival, state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, in this year’s Democratic primary.

Flake, the minister at Allen A.M.E. Cathedral in Jamaica, withdrew from the consortium, saying the scrutiny of AEG was becoming a distraction for him.

The federal government also subpoenaed the state Lottery Division, which was overseeing the AEG deal, about a nonprofit created by U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) and state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans), both Flake protégés.

In March, the AEG bid fell through when the Lottery Division refused to grant the license to the consortium. In other development, Paterson announced he was not going to run for a second term.

Donald Vernon, of the United Black Men of Queens, compared the media coverage of the AEG bid to the anti-black reporting that occurred during the pre-segregation era in the South. He noted there are thousands of affluent, hardworking families in southeast Queens, but contended that their progress and successes are never mentioned in the daily newspapers.

With the loss of jobs at Aqueduct, Vernon said the trend will continue.

“It’s like they are telling us black people in this town have no value,” he said.

The leaders said the only way to stop the misrepresentation and get the Aqueduct project on track was to speak out against the biased media coverage and demand the state bring the jobs back to southeast Queens.

Gadsen said he would organize more rallies on the issue and urged others to join in.

“Until we get what was rightfully ours, we will not stop. This is the beginning,” he said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

Updated 5:57 pm, October 10, 2011
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