At Least A Dozen Seek White’s Seat
By Queens Tribune Staff
|The fight to fill the seat left vacant by Thomas White’s death has potential candidates lining up.
Tribune Photo by Ira Cohen
A little more than a week has passed since Councilman Thomas White, Jr. passed away, but the race for his seat has already morphed into an all-out scramble for signatures and campaign funds before the Nov. 2 nonpartisan special election.
The number of potential candidates quickly reached double digits and counting. That crowded field of successors is only matched by a slew of rumors that the race itself has caused a tear in Southeast Queens’ usually tight political fabric.
Sean Bell’s widow, Nicole Paultre-Bell, entered the race, and has sparked tales of a rift between Assemblywoman Vivian Cook (D-Jamaica) and U.S. Rep. Greg Meeks (D-Jamaica), as each legislator backs a different candidate.
According to sources close to the situation, Cook adamantly supports Ruben Wills, the congressman’s potential opponent in a 2008 primary who was removed by the courts. Meeks was willing to grant Wills his blessing to run for White’s seat if he kowtowed to the Congressman, a source said. Wills did not.
“[Meeks] didn’t have a problem with Ruben running,” the source said. “They just felt he should have come to the table and spoken with Meeks.”
According to the source, the Congressman also made a failed attempt at political horse-trading. Meeks’ camp sought out a state-level committee position for a former member of the Congressman’s staff who is currently part of gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo’s campaign team, the source said.
Cook responded, “Hell no. We are not going to negotiate that,” according to the source.
Cook’s rebuke drove Meeks to find another candidate, “somebody with name recognition,” the source said.
Enter Paultre-Bell’s candidacy.
As Cook and Meeks each support their respective candidate, one source said, “There could be problems because they are on complete opposite sides.”
But some contend the rumors of growing animosity are greatly overblown, with one source likening the situation to a familial dispute and not a falling out.
“Are they political enemies? No,” the source said. “They talk every day. It’s not a traditional political fight.” The source characterized the dispute as a professional disagreement, saying the two merely supported opposing candidates in the race and were willing to back the election’s eventual winner.
The race also presents the curious case of Lynn Nunes, who filed for matching funds with the Campaign Finance Board despite currently running a Democratic primary challenge against State Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica).
Days before the CFB’s filings were released, Nunes was asked if he would run for the 28th Councilmanic District.
“I haven’t even given that any thought, but I haven’t ruled out the idea,” he responded. He added he would make a decision after the Sept. 14 primary.
Another candidate petitioning for a ballot line in the special election is Lynn’s sister Elaine Nunes. The Queens Tribune obtained her petitions, which list her as a candidate with the same South Richmond Hill address as her brother. The petition identifies her independent party line as “Working Harder for Queens.” It includes three of Nunes’ neighbors as the committee to fill vacancies, in accordance with election law.
The petition leaves a door open for Lynn Nunes’ entry into the race, should he lose to Huntley. If Elaine were to drop out of the race, the committee to fill vacancies could name Lynn as her replacement.
Nunes did not return requests for comment after the Tribune obtained his sister’s petition.
According to the CFB, 10 candidates have filed to receive matching funds. CFB spokesman Joseph Ferris said the final list of candidates may be more than 10, but any future candidates would not be able to qualify for matching funds as the Sept. 7 deadline has passed.
The CFB’s list includes Albert Baldeo, Charles Bilal, Martha Butler, Vishnu Mahadeo, Lynn Nunes and his sister Elaine, Paultre-Bell, Hettie Powell, Harpreet Singh Toor and Wills. Other candidates who have stepped forward include former councilman Allan Jennings and former candidate Stephen Jones.
Candidates have until Sept. 13 to file the 899 required signatures to get on the Nov. 2 ballot.
Whoever replaces White, they have big shoes to fill. Local politicians chimed in about what kind of person should fill his seat and on what issues they should focus.
State Senator Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) spoke to White about his successor just days before he died. District 28 needs, “someone humble and concerned about the community,” Smith said.
Also speaking to White before he died was State Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica.), according to statements she made at White’s funeral. Although the two did not talk about politics, Huntley said the district needs someone familiar with government who relates well to people.
“It’s a tireless job,” she said. “They just have to be on point and understand the community they are serving.”
Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), whose district borders the 28th, agreed, adding, “They need to communicate effectively their opinions, and be able to articulate the concerns, wants and desires of their communities.”
Electeds suggested a variety of problems in the district that need attention, including flooding, sanitation and public transportation.
While Smith cited job creation and public safety as the top priorities, Councilman James Sanders (D- Laurelton), put succinctly the issue weighing most heavily on many peoples’ minds: “It’s the economy stupid.”
White was an outspoken advocate for expanding children’s programs, senior programs and public transportation, said Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park).
“I think it’s important to note that whomever is elected to fill his seat can never truly replace him,” he said. “There will never be another Tom White.”
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