A debate between the three candidates vying to replace City Councilman David Weprin (D−Hollis) in November descended into chaos last week when one of the candidates publicly accused a community leader of stealing his campaign signs.
“My signs are being stolen and the person who stole them is here and he’s going to go to jail very soon,” Council candidate Swaranjit Singh said during the evening forum June 3 at MS 172 in Floral Park.
A shouting match ensued between Singh and the community leader, who denied being the culprit.
“I’m going to sue you for fraud,” the leader yelled at Singh. “I’m going to kick your ass. I’m going to call the cops tomorrow.”
Officers and a detective from the 105th Precinct arrived at the school to bring calm to the situation. No arrests were made.
Singh earlier had told TimesLedger Newspapers he believed the person who stole his signs was motivated by prejudice. Singh is a Sikh.
“Why are people ripping up my signs? Out of ignorance,” he was quoted as saying in the May 13 edition of the paper.
The debate, sponsored by the Queens Civic Congress, the Queens Coalition for Parks and Green Spaces and the North Bellerose Civic Association, was supposed to be centered on parks issues, according to moderator Corey Bearak, but the incident led Singh and the other candidates to briefly talk about relations between different ethnicities in the district.
State Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D−Little Neck), who is running for the Council seat held by his brother, brought up a meeting that Singh helped to organize last month between South Asians and civic leaders, which was an attempt to foster understanding between the two groups.
“That was a wonderful meeting,” Weprin said. “When I see this screaming going on, it makes me forget how great that was.”
Weprin noted how his son attends MS 172, which he described as ethnically diverse.
“I look at the kids and they never look to distinguish each other,” he said. “I look at them and I say, ‘When are they going to learn to hate each other?’”
Bob Friedrich, the third Council candidate and president of Glen Oaks Village, said his signs were also stolen, but declined to blame racism as Singh did. Friedrich is white.
“I personally don’t play the race card,” he said. “It was probably taken down by some over−zealous person, not my opponents.”
After the debate wrapped up, Friedrich criticized Singh for making the allegation.
“To say that this is religious−based ... don’t start accusing people in the community unless you have the facts,” he said.
Before Singh made the allegation, he shouted at Bearak, claiming he was never informed that the debate would be about parks.
“I was not told at all. I’m totally in the dark,” Singh said.
Bearak said he sent an e−mail to Singh’s real estate office that explained the format of the debate.
While the meeting was heated, there was no animosity between the three candidates.
A native of India, Singh said he immigrated to the United States in 1992 and has been living in Bellerose for 23 years.
“I believe there’s no country like America,” he said. “This is a country where an immigrant can come and make his dream come true.”
He said he was discriminated against after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when a girl asked if he was going to bomb Queens and a man gave him the middle finger.
“I want you to look beyond my turban,” Singh told the crowd. “I want you to look at who I am.”
Weprin addressed those who were puzzled at why he would want to leave his politically−comfortable job in the Assembly for the Council, which has term limits.
“I’m very proud of my record in Albany,” he said. “I want to leave Albany and move on to where I could be more effective.”
During his introduction, Friedrich said he was not a “politician” and that the Council should be more composed of people who are civic−minded.
“I think it’s time that the career politicians. ... That needs to come to an end,” he said. “I don’t believe in the political bickering that goes on.”
Weprin took a shot at Friedrich, a former TimesLedger columnist, by saying as an assemblyman he has had “the opportunity to deliver” because he “has the respect from other people in the Council and doesn’t write articles attacking them.”
Weprin said he respected Friedrich, but that does not make him the ideal councilman for the district.
“Just because you’re a good president of a co−op doesn’t mean your the best candidate for City Council,” he said.
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e−mail at hkoplowitz
©2009 Community News Group
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