Flushing activist blasts lack of Hispanics on CB7

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When Community Board 7 announced the borough president had appointed four new members to fill vacancies, Martha Flores-Vazquez' name was not listed.

Instead, Joseph Infranca, John Liu, Harold Sanchez and Dr. Harri Shukla were introduced at Monday's meeting.

It came as no surprise to Vazquez, a Flushing civic leader and candidate for City Councilwoman Julia Harrison's (D-Flushing) seat. She had already been notified about the appointments and had spent the days prior to the CB 7 meeting questioning why there was only one Hispanic representative - Sanchez - on the board.

There are 49 CB 7 members and in the past those have included Hispanics.

Backed by the Flushing NAACP and the Corona-based Latin Women in Action, Inc., Vazquez made her feelings known to the board.

She said she planned to obtain the attendance records of CB 7 members. She demanded "more women, Hispanics, African Americans and other ethnic groups" be appointed to fill the open slots "of those who have blatantly shown a disinterest due to lack of participation and attendance."

Haydee Zambrana, chief executive officer of Latin Women in Action, agreed.

"Based on the percentage of Hispanics in this community, there should be more than one on this board," she said.

The 1990 Census showed Hispanics made up 15 percent of CB 7.

Many officials disagreed with Vazquez and Zambrana.

"I think she has a very emotional response to rejection," said Harrison. "I think the board is very reflective of the community."

Marilyn Bitterman, CB 7's district manager, said this was the first time someone had questioned the board's ethnic makeup.

"There is certainly a generous mix of representation on the community boards," said Dan Andrews, spokesman for Borough President Claire Shulman.

Andrews noted everyone is encouraged to apply to Queens community boards, which offer nonbinding opinions on zoning and other local concerns. Applicants are asked to list character references and organizational affiliations, but not their race or ethnicity.

"It's just not used as a criterion for making a decision," he said. "You're not trying to match the demographics exactly with the applicant. That certainly isn't done."

Flushing NAACP president Ken Cohen, however, believed it should be.

The Flushing NAACP is trying to get the lists of members of CB 7, CB 8 covering the Fresh Meadows area and CB 11, which includes Bayside, Auburndale, Little Neck and Douglaston, to determine their ethnic composition.

He said there should be more outreach to ethnic groups to join and if out of five community board applicants, four are from ethnic groups already represented, then the fifth should be appointed.

The NAACP official said minority members should not look out just for the interests of other members of their ethnic groups, but they would be best able to speak about issues plaguing those communities.

Cohen also said minority members can overcome language barriers isolating certain residents and make their communities more aware of issues.

Vazquez had made the same arguments for her appointment to CB 7 as had Sanchez, who said he joined to represent Hispanics.

"I'm going to be learning and come out and explain what it's all about," said Sanchez, who was sports director for Flushing Meadows Corona Park and is now Brooklyn's chief of recreation. He is also considering entering the race for Harrison's seat.

"Anytime we do run into a problem with the Korean or Chinese or Indians, I'll reach out to board members who are of that ethnic group for assistance," Bitterman said. "But as far as the nitty-gritty for decisions about a group home or variance, that doesn't come into play."

Cohen said although he hoped community board members worked on behalf of everybody, it is human nature that people who look and speak like them "are going to get a better ear than those who don't."

CB 7's three black members had different responses when asked if they thought they represented the African-American voice.

Sarah Whiting, a longtime member, said her father told her to help any man who comes to her door.

"My father didn't say red, black, green or white," Whiting said. "He said a man comes to your door. I live by that."

Millicent O'Meally, the board's vice chairwoman, said she and her husband are the only blacks in their neighborhood and when she joined CB 7 it was because her area lacked representation in general.

She said she represents the community, but did concede "you right away feel a connection when somebody of your race speaks about what they consider an injustice."

Rev. Nicholas Tweed of the Macedonia AME Church said just because CB 7's membership does not match the demographics "doesn't mean it's not representing the will of the community."

He said as a black person, he understands what it is like not to have a voice. As a board member he tries to make decisions that are in the best interests of the whole community, "but at the same time are not at the expense of my community."

But Tweed added: "You can have people that may belong to an ethnic group whose values don't reflect the majority of that community."

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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