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East New York Candidate Forum Disrupted by Candidate

By Mary Alice Miller

Groups of supporters and community residents filled seats to support their favorite candidate at a 42nd District candidate forum hosted by United Community Centers. Confirmed candidates Chris Banks, Inez Barron, Prince Lewis, Nikki Lucas and Regina Powell took turns battling to make their case while delivering biting remarks at each other. 

The candidates were questioned on salary disparities between early childhood and K-12 teachers, vacant spaces vs. development, participatory budgeting, public schools vs. charter schools, youth and seniors, stop-and-frisk, ESL for immigrants, and unemployment.

As they were answering questions, candidate John Whitehead entered, stood cross-armed and glared. One of his supporters in the audience interrupted, asking “Are you going to let him speak?” During a question about participatory budgeting, Assemblywoman Barron used her time to advocate that Whitehead be allowed to join the forum.

At that point, Whitehead stood between the candidates and the audience demanding to be heard. He then directly confronted the forum organizers who revealed that Whitehead was contacted and invited to participate, but had declined, citing he did not like the format. Whitehead continued to demand that he be allowed to participate. When forum organizers relented and promised a chance to address the audience, Whitehead declined and stormed out with his supporters trailing behind him.

The assemblywoman never did get the opportunity to express her views on participatory budgeting.

Banks said ENY is oversaturated with shelters and needs development of state-of-the-art youth and senior centers. Lewis said ENY needs a 5-year plan for affordable housing, business development, jobs, and community centers, but didn’t say he has one. “Once shelters and affordable housing  are built we complain,” said Lucas. “But this land had been sitting there for 40 years and we haven’t addressed it.”

On unemployment in the district, Lewis said there are no adult education programs such as carpenter, electrician, CDL in ENY like there are in Red Hook and Bed-Stuy. He would make ENY an empowerment zone by giving existing businesses tax breaks to hire and train. Lewis noted the “Chinese restaurants, the bodegas, the Mammas Fried Chicken. Don’t nobody who looks like me work there.”

Powell agreed with Lewis, saying that there are times she goes into stores and wonder, “Where’s the people who look like me?” She recommends Second Chance programs to help the formerly  incarcerated get employment.

Barron said construction of Gateway ll is underway that will create not only construction jobs now,  but permanent jobs for the future.

Lucas named programs available to help with reentry and job readiness. “The problem is being able to access it and the information getting out,” she said. Lucas said the city should hire local college students who would invest in their own community instead of someone from “West Wherever” who make their money here then take it back out and spend among themselves.

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