By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
(Sunday, March 10, 2002) As I’ve explained before, due to a hectic work week, I
almost always write my columns on the weekends. It gives me time to work
my words, research online, review notes and write leisurely. On the
other hand, it allows the news time to change and commentary time to
At times we’ve updated
our column to keep pace with our fast changing City and Borough. For
instance, the item you see on this page analyzing the April 16 Special
Election in Queens’ 31st AD is, as of this writing, as accurate a
picture as has appeared in print anywhere. We believe our prediction to
be on the money and can only hope that our old friend Juanita Watkins
doesn’t reveal her hand too quickly so as to make our column seem like
old stuff. Tom Manton, as always, will likely play it close to the vest
till the deal is done.
Also, as we write this on
Sunday, we anticipate tomorrow’s (Monday’s) six-month anniversary
memorial to the World Trade Center tragedy. We’ve read about the
towering light sculpture that will be visible for some twenty miles. By
the time this column is on the street, we will know of the fantastic
Queens views of the memorial light sculpture that will dominate our sky
for the next month.
We are certain that many
of the fascinating images of the memorial light sculpture will be worthy
of sharing and invite our readers to send us their best photos. We’d
like to share them with all of our readers. (Please include the location
you took the photo, your name, address and phone number — we’ll just
print your name and community). Email digital photos to Not4Pub@QueensTribune.com;
or snail mail them to us at Not4Pub, 174-15 Horace Harding Expressway,
Fresh Meadows, NY. 11365.
Raucous Caucus ?
Don’t get me wrong,
I’m all for ethnic groups, special interest groups and the like
uniting to use their collective voice to advocate for and advance their
common good. However, it does give cause for concern when a member of
the New York State Board of Regents expresses that her only interest is
children of one color.
Public servants bring to
their job their unique background and heritage but are responsible to
advance the greater good. Certainly the ethnic caucus is an old and
meaningful part of government advocacy, but isn’t it incumbent upon
members of such caucuses to insure that they reach out to be inclusive
and advance the greater good of all citizenry?
To discuss just that
matter, we called Council Finance Chair David Weprin on Friday. Now
we’ve known the Weprin family forever. It seems that there has been at
least one Weprin in elective office for as far back as we’ve been
chronicling the news. As a matter of fact, more than 15 years ago, when
this writer’s award-winning political column, Quips, Queens In
Politics, first appeared on these pages, David’s father Saul
was Speaker of the NYS Assembly. After Saul’s untimely death in 1992,
David’s younger brother Mark won their father’s Assembly seat while
David filled his shoes as Democratic District Leader. David last year,
won the Council seat. David and Mark’s mother Sylvia has been an
active participant in civic and political affairs since Saul first
appeared on the scene.
I never knew Sylvia was
born in Cuba.
Armed with the knowledge
of his mother’s heritage, Weprin has applied for membership in the
Black and Hispanic caucus of the City Council. The group, which focuses
on the concerns of the Black and Hispanic citizens of our City, welcomed
John Liu – the Council’s first Asian – as a member shortly after
However, although Weprin
is not complaining and insists he doesn’t want to create an issue over
it, the son of a Cuban immigrant was told to write a letter to request
membership. It seems, he was told, that they want to review their
membership policy. David insisted to this writer that it was all fine
with him and he supports their agenda whether or not they accept him
Now David may not be as
Hispanic as Hiram Monserrate or caucus co-chair Angel Rodriguez, but
then again, Leroy Comrie isn’t as dark as Allan Jennings. What
measurements are used? John Liu, the Asian from Flushing is quickly
accepted, but David Weprin, an orthodox Jew from Jamaica Estates whose
mother migrated from a Hispanic country, not so quickly.
And should the good
offices of the City Council be used to foster organizations that thrive
on our differences?
“One nation, under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”
Avoiding the discussion of
the “under God” phrase, let’s for the moment focus on the word
“indivisible.” That which cannot be divided — our nation
— seems to function on all levels with a government that is made up of
members who chose to divide themselves into groups based on their
David and I chatted about
the revived Council Jewish study group or caucus being open to everyone
and sponsoring events open to all. The recent Council event celebrating
the Chinese New Year sponsored by Liu and the Speaker was open to all.
But on a Federal, State
and City level, the special interest groups — most notably the Black
and Hispanic (Black and Puerto Rican in Albany or the Congressional
Black Caucus in D.C.) — set an agenda to further the elevation of
their members to positions of power and advance their group’s agenda
through the legislative body.
We understand and
We understand the purpose
of the Congressional Black Caucus or the Women’s Caucus or whatever.
But sadly we note the absence of a unity caucus: a special interest
group committed to celebrating and promoting our similarities. It seems
that the halls of government can be more divisive than the streets of
Now we hear that Queens
Council member Allan Jennings has announced that his mother is Jewish
and he has applied for admission to the Jewish caucus.
With a sincere sense of
humor and unity we have only two words in reaction to the latest
adventures of Allan Jennings: “Oy Vey!”
We have no great moral
lesson here. We certainly would expect Jennings’ prompt admission to
the Jewish caucus. And likewise, David Weprin must be admitted to the
Black and Hispanic caucus. I only hope that its members might even reach
out to more white guys and gals. Isn’t that what the “indivisible”
stuff is all about?
Perhaps someday, we all
can be part of one caucus.
Light Sculpture Photos
over the next month, share your photos of the World Trade Center
Memorial Light Sculpture with us and our readers.
include the location the photo was taken, plus your name, address and
phone number — we’ll just print your name and community.
photos to us at Not4Pub, 174-15 Horace Harding Expressway, Fresh
Meadows, NY. 11365; or e-mail photos to Not4Pub@QueensTribune.com
Election In The 31st A.D.
After a strangely long
period of silence, last Friday Governor Pataki finally called a special
election to fill the vacancy in the office of Member of Assembly in the
31st District in Queens County caused by the death of Pauline Rhodd-Cummings.
The election, in this
overwhelmingly Democratic District will be held on April 16th and will go to the candidate who is granted the Democratic line.
No, that’s not the law;
it is however, a fact in much of Queens and a certainty in Southeast
Queens. So, although there has been much scurrying by nearly a dozen of
Assembly member wanabees, the target of their energies must be four
district leaders and Dem County Chair Tom Manton.
Yes, the official election
will occur in the 31st Assembly District on April 16, but the real
selection will take place shortly on Austin Street at Democratic County
Headquarters when Tom Manton calls a meeting of the four District Leaders
of the 31st — Juanita Watkins, Bob Simmons, Allan Jennings and Michelle
Titus. At that meeting, the Democratic designee and the winning selection
shall be made. A majority vote in that County headquarters backroom
elevates one candidate to the Democratic line without a primary — only
in Special Elections do district leaders have such absolute power.
Mentioned over the past
month as potential candidates are (alphabetically):
• Brian Block – aide
to State Senator Malcolm Smith;
• Michael Duvalle – a
registered Democrat interested in running as Republican, real estate
• Henrietta Fullard –
educator, activist, the current Pastor of the Bethel A.M.E. Church who ran
for City Council District 31;
• Liz Goldsmith Bishop
– president of Mothers Against Guns, former Parent Teacher Association
president and member of the Central Queens Community Corporation;
• David Hooks – State
University of New York career planner and District 31 Council Candidate in
• Evan Grey –
Minister, Macedonia Baptist Church;
• Andrea Jones – civic
• Taj Kumar –Jamaica
• Fred Lewis –former
aide to Mark Green;
• Charles A. Pringle,
Jr. - Bronx assistant District Attorney who formerly worked for Assembly
Deputy Speaker Arthur Eves, former Congressman Floyd Flake, and former
Mayor David Dinkins;
• Michelle Titus –
attorney, Democratic district leader who failed to gain a ballot position
in the battle for City Council District 28.
Jenkins, chief of Staff to Congressman Greg Meeks, was touted as being the
strongest candidate in the field. But Jenkins’ hope rested on the long
shot that the Governor would not call a special election allowing Jenkins,
not currently a resident of the 31st AD, to move into the district . . .
an allowable exception during a redistricting year.
In Special Elections,
insiders have the decided advantage. You can’t get anymore inside than
being a district leader.
Michelle Titus starts out
with her own vote. She
also, according to party pundits, starts out with the opposition of her
co-leader Allan Jennings because she did not support his successful
candidacy for Council. That leaves king maker (or queen maker) Juanita
Watkins, the leader who was responsible for Pauline Rhodd-Cummings’
elevation to the Assembly, to once again lead the party’s selection
Watkins is a shrewd and
skilled politico. Although her co-leader Simmons is an uncertain factor,
there is little doubt that Watkins will reward a party loyalist.
Since Juanita doesn’t want to go to Albany herself, it would be a pretty
good bet that another District Leader will get her nod and County Leader
Tom Manton will likely quietly champion such a cause.
We’d bet that on April
16, the people of the 31st District will elect Michelle Titus to the
Just ask Juanita Watkins.
by Dom Nunziato