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September 14, 2009: Vol. 1, No. 8
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45 CD candidates troll for votes in Canarsie


Three of the six people running in the Democratic primary in the 45th Councilmanic District stood before Canarsie residents to make the case for their candidacy with just a week and a half before primary day.

Erlene King, Dr. Dexter McKenzie and Jumaane Williams addressed members of the Friends United Block Association (FUBA) during that group’s September candidate’s forum, held at Temple Shaare Emeth, 6012 Farragut Road.

All three of the candidates presented themselves as long-term community activists who would be able to advocate for the district to bring in additional services and resources.

Not present at the forum were the sitting City Councilmember, Kendall Stewart, and two of his challengers, Ernest Emmanuel and Sam Taitt.

Williams -- who has the backing of the Working Families Party,1199 SEIU and DC 37 among others -- pointed out that he was “the only community organizer who’s running. I’m not changing careers,” he stressed, “and I’m not trying to change jobs.”

While he had not planned to take his career in that direction, Williams went on, he started out “working with tenants, and working with homeowners.”

He has been director of housing for the Flatbush Development Corporation, as well as the head of a state tenants group, Tenants & Neighbors. Currently, Williams said, he is holding foreclosure prevention and loan modification forums -- which are urgently needed locally, since “This area has one of the highest rates of foreclosure in the state.”

Williams has also been involved with neighborhood youth, heading up an after-school Beacon program at Meyer Levin Intermediate School, he said.

The endorsements he has received, Williams said, reflect not only his years of civic activism, but also the fact that he is capable of winning over the incumbent, who, he said, “has not been very responsive to what the community needs. The only way to get the incumbent out is to line up behind one candidate, and I’m so humbled that they’ve chosen me. But, I need to get the endorsement of the voters. If we start voting for different people, h goes right back in.

“This is not the time we need to vote for people because we know them, we have seen them run before,” Williams emphasized. “It’s the time to vote for someone who has the experience we need. We put a community organizer in the White House, last year, and we did that for a reason. There’s a set of skills that community organizers bring to an equation, and that’s a skill set we need to bring to City Hall.”

McKenzie, for his part, told the crowd that he was running, “To be your voice and speak truth to power.”

A product of the public school system, and one of 11 children of immigrant parents, McKenzie told of rising up from poverty to go on to medical school, and coming back to the community determined to make a difference there.

A graduate of South Shore High School when it was an esteemed institution, McKenzie mourned the school’s downward spiral, and said it was a reflection of the “disintegration of civil society,” that accompanies the loss of a sense of community among neighbors.

It is that, he said, that he would work to restore. “Today, when communities are united and strong, they get the services they need,” McKenzie contended, noting, “In this district we have children trapped in failing high schools. Only four out of 10 graduate. Of them, only 20 percent are prepared for college, and out of that meager 20 percent, a half do not make it past the first year, in a society where a high school diploma is minimum requirement for an individual to have any sort of opportunity.

“With this dismal failure rate, we set the stage for unemployment, poverty and poor health,” McKenzie went on. “All of these are interrelated, and to say we can solve one without a holistic approach is disingenuous at best. To say we can solve the problem of crime by building more jails and stuffing them with our children who are not graduating high school is a crime in itself. You can’t address the issue of crime without addressing poverty.”

King told the group she had been involved in public service as a volunteer since 1982, working on landlord and tenant issues, and had “managed the district” for four years under Stewart’s predecessor, Lloyd Henry.

In addition, King said, she had started an auxiliary at East Flatbush’s Dr. Susan Smith McKinney rehabilitation center, to raise money to buy homeless patients clothes and other necessities that they “needed to live comfortably.” She had also been a part of efforts to bring a day care center into the Flatbush YMCA, helping to raise money for that cause, King told the group.

“I know I am qualified to handle the City Council,” King told her listeners. “It must be someone who knows the community, works with community residents and understands community needs.”

Among her priorities, she said in response to an audience question, would be “to work on getting children out of the trailers,” which, she said, “Is dangerous for their health. FEMA banned the use of trailers for temporary housing, yet our children are placed in them the first day of school..”

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