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Protestors demand jobs from Aqueduct racino

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About 40 activists from neighborhoods in southeast Queens marched in front of the Aqueduct Race Track in South Ozone Park Saturday to protest the under-construction racino for not hiring from the community, although a representative from the developer said it is already responding to their wishes.

Led by Leroy Gadsden, president of the NAACP’s Jamaica Branch, protesters marched in front of the racetrack, at 110-00 Rockaway Blvd., carrying signs reading “Southeast Queens Needs Jobs” and “Economic Fair Share and Justice, Our Children Our Future.” Many of the protesters, who came from civic organizations in Queens, chanted “No jobs, no casino” and “No justice, no peace.” Former Jamaica City Councilman Archie Spigner also attended the protest. Their rally took two days before Genting Resorts World, the developer of the racino section of the racetrack, opened an employment center at the site.

Gadsen accused Resorts World of having “done nothing” to hire from the community and demanded a guarantee that 25 percent of the workers be hired from the community now and into perpetuity. He also said the company should hire an affirmative action officer to enforce this measure.

“As it stands, our community will bear the pain and burden of this casino while we stand to gain the least from the casino,” Gadsen said. He said the racino would bring increases in domestic violence, divorce, homelessness and crime.

Patrick Jenkins, a spokesman for Resorts World, said the group had hired from the community, met with members and is committed to being a good neighbor.

“People want jobs, we want people to have jobs,” Jenkins said.

He said 54 percent of construction jobs have gone to minorities and women, and 33 percent of contracts have gone to minority- and women-owned business firms.

“We’re trying to achieve the same goals,” Jenkins said. “This community will be fairly represented.”

The company opened an employment center Monday at the site, which Gadsden attributed to the protests his group had led against Aqueduct in the past.

Steven Dennison, who owns an electric company based in Jamaica, said the hirings were merely filling a quota, and that while the contracts may have gone to minorities, few went to members of the community. He said he had applied for work, but the company was not sincerely interested in him and tried to negotiate down for work at prices unrealistic given the costs and labor.

“Who’s the first person to come and spend money?” Dennison asked. “Not someone from Jersey, someone from right here.”

He said the contractors did not want handouts but wanted to be treated fairly.

Some who spoke said they saw the racino’s hiring as an exclusionary practice. Gadsden said the state NAACP had also condemned how Resorts World was hiring people and vowed that the residents of southeast Queens would continue to protest until their demands were met.

“Every decision-making position was filled with someone outside of the community,” Gadsden said about the racino. “If we are lying, then come tell the truth.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

Updated 10:50 am, October 12, 2011
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