Monday, May 24, 2010

A Revolt In SE Queens Takes Aim At Two Assembly Veterans, Hundreds Of Other Positions by Andrew Hawkins - City Hall News

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Despite accusations of financial mismanagement and abuse of taxpayer dollars, no one appears to be running against Sen. Malcolm Smith or Rep. Gregory Meeks this year.

But that does not mean the Queens revolution will be canceled.

Several long-serving Assembly members will be challenged and hundreds of state and county committee positions will be sought after this year, in an uprising against the political powerbase in Southeast Queens.

Clyde Vanel, a 36-year-old lawyer and business owner, will run against 12-term Assembly Member Barbara Clark. Vanel ran an insurgent race against Council Member Leroy Comrie last year, in a campaign that was widely seen as a test for the grassroots organization that was inspired by the presidential campaign of Barack Obama.

Vanel said that Clark, much like other elected officials in their section of the borough, have come to take their positions for granted. He cited newspaper reports that she had funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars into a non-profit she helped found, where only half of the funds allocated were put toward helping local schools and Little League teams.

“Barbara Clark has been there for 26 years,” Vanel said. “She’s been subpar for a very long time.”

Vanel has been collaborating with local community organizer Donnie Whitehead over the past year, holding meetings with residents in their living rooms and reading up on city and state election law, in an attempt to find a way to upend the political system in Southeast Queens, he said. Whitehead and his wife both plan on running for district leader positions. And dozens of others have volunteered to run for state and county committee positions, many of which are vacant.

“If by next year we have hundreds of new elected officials in our Assembly district,” he said, “that would be a great, great change than what we have now.”

Vanel said that even some members of the Guy R. Brewer United Democratic Club, affiliated with former Council Member Archie Spigner, an ally of Meeks and Smith, have expressed interest in joining their cause.

The failed Aqueduct development deal spurred a series of news stories about political favoritism and financial mismanagement. Following that, federal investigators launched a probe into the Aqueduct deal, implicating Meeks, Smith, Rev. Floyd Flake and others. Meanwhile, Spigner and other local powerbrokers began holding rallies and public forums to denounce the media for what they said were racist and biased attacks against their elected officials.

But Vanel said many people are unconvinced that the local leaders are not the ones who are at fault.

“People have the opportunity to challenge the establishment and fight,” he said. “It’s a shame that in our area people are afraid to do that.”

Donna Clopton, president of the 103rd Precinct Council, said she had attended several of Vanel and Whitehead’s weeknight brainstorming sessions, and came away with a few ideas of her own.

“People in our area are so misinformed,” said Clopton, who is mulling a run against Assembly Member Vivian Cook. “We’re kept away from our elected leaders. They just don’t seem to reach out.”

Clopton said the regular meetings have been eye-opening for many people, especially with regard to the sheer number of committee positions that were open seats.

“If I decide to run, that’s what I would want to do for the community,” she said.