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Challengers for Sears seat slam incumbent

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Challengers to City Councilwoman Helen Sears’ (D−Jackson Heights) seat wasted no time in tearing into the incumbent at a candidates’ forum last Thursday as she publicly indicated her interest in re−election.

Speaking in front of the New Visions Democratic Club, Sears, Democratic District Leader Daniel Dromm and Jackson Heights attorney Stanley Kalathara spent 90 minutes exchanging criticism of one another and ideas for the district in the first face−to−face discussion of the race.

Sears, who was first elected in 2000, touted her experience as she asked the club to re−elect her to a third term. Representatives from Sears’ office did not confirm whether it was the first time she publicly announced her interest in re−election.

“How do you get the best you can for your community? By having the trust of your colleagues, by being a budget negotiator for 7 12 years,” Sears said. She said she would focus on health care, the environment, affordable housing and the district’s growing senior population if re−elected.

Dromm, a gay rights activist and public school teacher, attacked Sears for inadequate leadership.

“I have some skills in the community that I have shown to bring people together,” he said.

Kalathara seemed most interested in lambasting Sears for supporting Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s successful bid to extend term limits last year, although he said he would work to make Roosevelt Avenue’s commercial district one of the most sought−after shopping areas in the borough.

“Danny was expecting he was going to be a shoo−in for the Democratic nomination. She came in and smashed his dream,” Kalathara said, referring to Sears. “Together we can stop her dream.”

Sears got the largest applause for any of her responses when Jackson Heights resident Hank Krumholtz asked her why she did not save St. John’s Hospital, which closed at the end of February.

“It was a mistake to close St. John’s,” she said, but pointed out that the state was responsible for the decision.

“A group was going to buy the land and lease it back to St. John’s Hospital so it could stay there,” she said. “They wanted at least a 10−year lease. The state said no.”

Dromm took Sears to task for not doing more for the struggling hospital in Elmhurst when its parent company went bankrupt in 2005.

“St. John’s was ready to close a number of years ago,” he said. “We should have been on top of that years ago.”

Sears leads the fund−raising in the race for her seat with $110,623 as of March 16, according to city Campaign Finance Board records. Dromm followed with $79,057, Con Ed spokesman and former Sears aide Alfonso Quiroz had $62,558, and Kalathara had $29,632, according to the CFB. A fifth candidate, Elmhurst real estate agent Mujib Rahman, had not raised any money by March 16.

Quiroz said he declined to participate in the debate because the New Visions Democratic Club contributed $500 to Dromm’s campaign. Rahman, a club member, did not want to appear on the public panel, club Vice President Dorothy Phelan said.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e−mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 154.

Updated 6:35 pm, October 10, 2011
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