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Queens leaders welcome Wills

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“Did you hear that?” City Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) asked Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), laughing. “United States Sen. Chuck Schumer said District 28 — let me repeat, District 28 — was going to be the best district in this city.”

Wills was joking with Comrie, Wills’ mentor, who represents the nearby 27th District, after Schumer (D-N.Y.) spoke at the new legislator’s inauguration ceremony Saturday, but Schumer like a bevy of other elected officials did indeed heap praise on the new legislator. From congressional representatives to Council members, Queens and city residents praised Wills as a civic activist who would help to make southeast Queens the pride and joy of the borough.

And, yes, Schumer did say Wills would help to make District 28 one of the best in the city — and state.

“It’s a great day for southeast Queens,” Schumer said. “You have chosen someone who knows the community, who’ll get things done.”

Hundreds of people turned out for Wills’ inauguration ceremony at York College Saturday afternoon, and many of them described the new legislator as someone who understands the inner workings of the community and will always fight for it. Wills, who grew up in South Jamaica, won the Nov. 2 special election for the seat held by Councilman Thomas White until his death in August. White’s son, Brian White, attended Saturday’s nearly four-hour ceremony.

U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), state Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica), state Assemblywoman Vivian Cook (D-Jamaica) and Comrie all said they immediately knew they wanted Wills to win the seat after White died and said they worked together, making phone calls and knocking on doors, to make sure it happened.

“He takes the place of a great friend of mine, this community and this city,” Crowley said. “Tom White is missed. You’re filling the shoes of a decent, honest human being, and those are the biggest kinds of shoes to fill. I think Ruben Wills is up to the task.”

The tributes to Wills were nearly endless Saturday, with heavy hitters from the community saying they looked forward to working with him and seeing what he would do for the community, including U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) and former Councilman Archie Spigner.

“This young man knows how to stand up and represent this community,” Meeks said.

A community activist who grew up in southeast Queens was one of seven candidates who ran in the election and won with 3,347 votes, about 31 percent of the total count. Wills has worked with a number of legislators whom he called his mentors, including Comrie and Huntley, for whom Wills served as a special assistant and chief of staff, respectively.

He also ran a home contracting business that helped young adults, the formerly incarcerated and other residents acquire job skills with the goal of reducing recidivism rates.

Wills will serve in the office for a year and face an election next year to keep his seat, according to the rules in the City Charter. The winner of that election will serve out the rest of the term until 2014.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us,” Wills said, noting rocky finances will continue to plague the city and state. “We’re going to have to tighten our belts.”

Still, Wills said he expects his community to emerge from the financial ruins.

“I love this community,” he said. “We’ll go forward and be the brightest star in New York City and New York state.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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