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Who is Going to Replace Van Bramer? Check Out Our Candidate Forum

The first group of candidates vying to represent the 26th Council District in a forum hosted by Sunnyside Community Services, Jacob A. Riis Neighborhood Settlement and Queens Post on April 7

April 8, 2021 By Allie Griffin

More than a dozen candidates vying for the 26th City Council district seat debated hot-button issues at a forum Wednesday night.

The 15 candidates discussed a variety of topics of concern to Queens voters — everything from bike lanes to Amazon to NYPD funding — at the forum hosted by the Queens Post, Sunnyside Community Services and Jacob A. Riis Neighborhood Settlement.

The race to represent Sunnyside, Woodside and Long Island City on the City Council is one of the most crowded in the city. However, the Wednesday night forum provided an opportunity for candidates to differentiate themselves from one another.

Due to the number of candidates, the forum was broken into two—with seven candidates in the first group and eight in the second.

Here are their answers on some of the most pressing issues in the district and the borough.

The following questions were asked during a lightning round and required candidates to answer a simple yes or no.

  1. 1. Do you think the DOT’s decision to put down protected bicycle lanes on Skillman and 43rd Avenue was the correct one?

Amit Bagga: Yes

Lorenzo Brea: Yes

Glennis Gomez: Yes

Denise Keehan-Smith: No

Sultan Maruf: Yes

Brent O’Leary: No (and I’ve spoken on the record against this)

Ebony Young: Yes

Jonathan Bailey: Yes

Julia Forman: Yes (it’s a great start)

Badrun Khan: Yes

Hailie Kim: Yes

Jesse Laymon: Yes

Steven Raga: Not on Skillman

Emily Sharpe: Yes on both (but with more consideration to people with disabilities)

Julie Won: Yes

2. Would you advocate for reducing policing funding if elected?

Amit Bagga: Yes

Lorenzo Brea: Completely

Glennis Gomez: No

Denise Keehan-Smith: No

Sultan Maruf: Yes

Brent O’Leary: Yes (putting the one billion to services)

Ebony Young: No (demilitarizing and reforming and reallocating)

Jonathan Bailey: Yes

Julia Forman: Yes

Badrun Khan: Yes

Hailie Kim: Yes

Jesse Laymon: Yes

Steven Raga: Yes

Emily Sharpe: Yes

Julie Won: Yes

3. Many people argue that the Gifted and Talented programs at New York City schools should be scrapped as a means to desegregate the public school system? Would you advocate for the ending this program?

Amit Bagga: Yes

Lorenzo Brea: Yes

Glennis Gomez: No

Denise Keehan-Smith: No

Sultan Maruf: Yes

Brent O’Leary: No

Ebony Young: No

Jonathan Bailey: Yes

Julia Forman: Yes

Badrun Khan: No

Hailie Kim: Yes

Jesse Laymon: No

Steven Raga: Yes

Emily Sharpe: Yes

Julie Won: No (as a child that has gone through the program)

  1. 4. Half of the community board appointments are essentially made by council members – should this practice continue?

Amit Bagga: No

Lorenzo Brea: No

Glennis Gomez: No

Denise Keehan-Smith: No

Sultan Maruf: Definitely not

Brent O’Leary: No

Ebony Young: No

Jonathan Bailey: Yes

Julia Forman: Yes

Badrun Khan: Yes

Hailie Kim: No

Jesse Laymon: Yes

Steven Raga: Yes

Emily Sharpe: No

Julie Won: No

The next round of questions were submitted by members of the public. The candidates were allowed to expand on their answers for a one-minute interval.

The second group of candidates vying to represent the 26th Council District in a forum hosted by Sunnyside Community Services, Jacob A. Riis Neighborhood Settlement and Queens Post on April 7

  1. 1. Would have you voted to approve Phipps Houses rezoning application on Barnett Avenue?

Amit Bagga: “With respect to Phipps in particular, I think it’s important to recognize that the current project is a major improvement over the project that was initially proposed several years ago — which I did oppose. This current project has much deeper levels of affordability and stands unique in being one of the only projects in the entire city that has 15 percent [of units] set aside for our neighbors who are currently unhoused. I think we need to recognize what this project is, recognize the deficiencies in Phipps management of its current properties and understand that for the future of our neighborhood and the future of affordability, this is a worthwhile project.”

Lorenzo Brea: “There are tenants who live in the current Phipps housing development that saw this as a clear opportunity to get housing justice on the many issues that they vocalized over the years and we failed. We allowed a developer to build more housing when they couldn’t even take care of their initial property.”

Glennis Gomez: “This shows us the need to create real affordable housing. We can longer just hand away to developers that say that they’re going to do right by our residents and then we find out that it’s not that way.”

Denise Keehan-Smith: “I’m very much opposed to this development, primarily due to the fact that it’s really not affordable… It’s been determined that the people that need housing the most, the lowest income levels, the people coming out of homelessness, they can afford about 20 to 30 percent of AMI. The Phipps has proposed the lowest AMI of 40 percent — it’s not low enough.”

Sultan Maruf: “I definitely oppose it. The AMI requirement is 40 percent, which I cannot afford so I know the feeling. Regarding any issue, we have to ask the local residents what they want.”

Brent O’Leary: “I would have voted against, I was very proud to stand with the residents of Phipps apartments last week when we protested this. The Phipps are the eleventh worst landlord in the city; we should not be rewarding them with a lucrative deal.”

Ebony Young: “I am in support, but in support from this standpoint. I had a mother and father who worked for unions and they were middle class. We’re missing out on our middle class; we need to consider them as well… There are too many people that need affordable housing and there too many middle income people who could benefit from this.”

Jonathan Bailey: “I was opposed to the development because we need to make sure that the current residents are also being taken care of. We shouldn’t be trying to expand the power and influence that a landlord that has been mistreating residents has in our community.”

Julia Forman: “I think that the Phipps rezoning was an incredibly difficult decision… I agree that Phipps has proven themselves to not be a great landlord to the current garden apartments tenants and I think as a city we do need to hold their feet to the fire and make sure that they do step up and start actually doing what’s right for their current tenants. That said, I don’t believe that we are in a position right now to say no to 100 percent affordable housing, especially when a good percentage of those units are being set aside for formerly homeless individuals.”

Badrun Khan: “No, I don’t believe they should be allowed. They are really terrible landlords… If they can’t help the current [tenants], what is the future when they put a huge new building up.”

Hailie Kim: “I do believe we should be building more affordable housing. I don’t think Phipps was the right landlord to building it here. I agree that they’ve been treating their tenants terribly. I wouldn’t have voted no — on the other hand, I do think different situation, different landlord — I would have voted yes.”

Jesse Laymon: “I think that Council Member Van Bramer did the right thing here, which is to recognize that the leverage that… he had as our council member was to force Phipps to improve the quality of life at their existing building as part of a negotiation with them about getting the approval to build a new building… Hopefully Phipps lives up to their bargain and if I’m elected council member, I will hold their feet to the fire and make sure that they do.”

Steven Raga: “Definitely would have voted against it. If it was a different entity, then maybe yes. Phipps has already lied to our community. We want to put their feet to the fire, but we already gave them that shot a few years ago. How many times are they going to keep coming to our community and lying to our face and we keep giving them more concessions?”

Emily Sharpe: “I would have voted no. If we’re going to talk about housing as a human right, we also need to talk about what kind of housing as a human right — is it dignified housing or is is it housing where the landlord lets there be mold and vermin and doesn’t fix the roof…  Phipps is a bad landlord. We shouldn’t want anybody to live their buildings.”

Julie Won: “As a current tenant of Phipps, I have seen firsthand the issues that we’ve heard about during the community board [meeting] and a community board member, I have also voted against it… The first question I want to ask Phipps is if we really want to make sure that there’s affordable housing, then why are you driving the current rent-controlled apartments to commercial rent pricing?

2. Do you believe that Amazon’s last-minute decision NOT to open a headquarters in Long Island City was a victory or a missed opportunity for the district — and why?

Amit Bagga: “Plain and simple, I think it was a victory. I think the notion that we would be handing over $3.5 billion in taxpayer subsidies to the world’s largest corporation that engages in such worker exploitation that there are delivery folks [who] are peeing in bottles, it’s just a travesty… I also believe that as we are thinking about employment opportunities, we must ensure that we are creating employment with dignity for all New Yorkers. This project did not guarantee that.”

Lorenzo Brea: “I’m constantly speaking to residents of the most underserved communities in the direct vicinity of where Amazon was proposed and that’s mainly Queensbridge and Ravenswood Houses and they didn’t think that those jobs would end up being theirs and they didn’t think that those jobs were going to be high quality…We have entrepreneurs who are overlooked constantly in these communities and we don’t need to beg for a blessing from a monster, union-busting corporation.”

Glennis Gomez: “I think it was a missed opportunity and also a lack of leadership… I really think that we missed [out] on important jobs and it was an opportunity for potentially our youth to be able to obtain certain jobs that can lead to a career path.”

Denise Keehan-Smith: “I believe it was a missed opportunity. I served on the Amazon community advisory council… We were all very excited for the opportunity that the training could provide real jobs for the people within those communities.”

Sultan Maruf: “Victory, thank god that we got the victory… Everybody talks about the jobs — why didn’t they come up with, let’s say 90 or 70 percent of our local residents that have lived in New York City for five years, they should be getting the jobs. [Amazon] didn’t offer that.”

Brent O’Leary: “It was a victory. Amazon was taking away a large amount of our public land. They were getting $3 billion in tax subsidies which were going to be put on the backs of working class people like us and the jobs that there were supposed to be were relocation jobs, so their executives coming [to LIC], not jobs for us.”

Ebony Young: “We must give our people here in this community economic advantage that they are due and we had an opportunity to do that right here with Amazon. How it was done was a problem, not what was done… I would push for more transparency with any development involving city property.”

Jonathan Bailey: “For all of people the first time they knew I existed [was from my activist work fighting Amazon in LIC]. Amazon HQ2 was going to be a gentrification engine, pulling people from all over the world who would be paid six figures and be willing to pay $3,000 a month for rent and it would gentrify everywhere.”

Julia Forman: “I absolutely think that this was a victory for our district. Amazon was not coming to our district with a good deal for anyone who lives here. Amazon was getting a lot of public benefit — they were getting public land, they were getting hundreds of millions of dollars in cash — and that’s all before the tax incentives.”

Badrun Khan: “I think it’s not about gain or loss — it’s [about] what we can bring into our community. We need to bring better companies that will fulfill our needs as a district.”

Hailie Kim: “I believe that we did need to say no to Amazon… There really was no incentive for them to keep their word on hiring local, those jobs would most likely not have gone to Queens residents and on top of that, why are we going to let a company like Amazon come into our community and bully us and tell us what we need to do for them, rather than us telling them what they need to do for us.”

Jesse Laymon: “I think the deal with Amazon was a bad deal and I’m glad that they walked away… I have proposed that we take all of the money that we use for job creation tax credits for large corporations and instead use it to create a multi-billion dollar way subsidy to actually pay the wages of a jobs guarantee for young New Yorkers at small to medium sized businesses. I think we should be investing that money instead of giving it to big corporations like Amazon in the mom-and-pop stores that already exist and already employ a larger number of New Yorkers than multinational corporations do. That’s where the job growth going to be.”

Steven Raga: “It was definitely a victory… The whole process was not transparent… Such a big project like this, it needs to have more community support… Also, it’s a company that works with ICE, it’s union-busting — that’s not something that New York stands for and especially Western Queens.”

Emily Sharpe: “I also believe it was a victory. I looked at it from the perspective of rent increases and what happened in San Francisco with Google and Seattle with Amazon, how people [were] living in their cars because they couldn’t afford any rents in the area.”

Julie Won: “It was a victory because it was a perverse incentive structure that was done behind closed doors and it was also with no inclusive community input. There were only certain stakeholders that were invited into the door… Those are not the kind of deals that I want for my community. As a council member, I would not want to bring in a corporation that is not going to put my people at its best interests in making sure that they have fair wages that are paid, as well as healthcare and even hazard pay during a pandemic.”

The candidates are running to replace current D-26 Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, who is term-limited and must vacate the seat at the end of the year.

L-R Julie Won, Emily Sharpe, Steven Raga and Jesse Laymon who were in the second group at Wednesday night’s forum

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2 Comments

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Frank

Gifted and talented programs are about segregation now? When did school change from a place where being smart was rewarded to one where it is a liability? This mentality is a race to the least common denominator.

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Anonymous

“We must ensure that we are creating employment with dignity for all New Yorkers. This project did not guarantee that.”

No project or company guarantees this…a company will guarantee a job if you work hard and are good at your trade. Plenty of financial companies offer jobs that are VERY demanding. The hours can be crazy but the potential for current and future earnings is appealing. NYers do what they to do to make opportunities. A comment like this shows that the candidate is picking and choosing, rather than providing opportunities and being open to partnership. Imagine the Mayor made these comments about banks and financial firms operating in Manhattan …there literally wouldn’t be a Manhattan city if these big companies left because small business feeds off big business.

Any candidate that isn’t open to partnering with Amazon or any other big company isn’t trying to provide opportunities for small businesses and their voters. Hopefully voters see this.

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