Assemblyman William Scarborough, District 29, stepped down from his position after pleading guilty to state and federal felony charges of grand larceny in the misuse of travel funds over a four year period. This November, the election to install a new Assembly member will take place. Three ladies are vying for the seat. Alicia Hyndman, Scherie Murray and Terryl Ebony are in a lackluster campaign that has left many residents disappointed with a shortage of candidates, crying ‘voter suppression’ and dismayed with a repeat of the same old thing from the same old guard.
After it was confirmed that Scarborough was stepping down, there was a buzz in the community that there would be many potential candidates tossing their hat into the ring. The number was rumored to be upwards of 11 individuals that were going to try their luck. Then, out of nowhere, one person emerged, Alicia Hyndman and with the full backing of all the Southeast Queens elected officials, all of whom are Democrats, in a collaborative endorsement effort. In addition she has the backing of the Queens County Democratic Organization.
Hyndman is the former president of the Community Education Council for District 29. While she is known in District education circles, she is not viewed as a strong community activist. Educated and personable, the question on the minds of many residents is why this individual surfaced at the head of the line and received such significant support so enthusiastically and so early on.
In an interview, Congressman Gregory Meeks spoke about the consensus within SE Queens electeds to support one candidate. “Sometimes in these races, you can get divided. We thought it would be best for us to try to come together. It wasn’t easy. There was a long debate back and forth. There were several great people that were potential candidates,” he said. Meeks would not give the names of the other potential candidates under consideration.
Meeks spoke to some of the factors that led to the choice of Hyndman including her educational background and the opportunity to balance the ratio of male and female representation. “One of the big issues we have in Southeast Queens is education and trying to make sure we do certain things for our young folks,” he said.
While unity is great, especially around key community issues, residents seem to be looking for choice. “Where are all the candidates,” said a constituent in the District who asked to remain nameless. “Is this the only choice we have?”
The one challenger willing to oppose Hyndman and vie to be the party’s choice is Terryl Ebony. Ebony is a youth leader, author and life coach who was quickly removed from the ballot in a court challenge headed by District Leader Archie Spigner. Although court challenges are a normal part of an election, this challenge had some crying foul as it seemed that ‘county’ was at work, again.
County is a reference to the Queens County Democrat Party. This group is known to have a strong influence in elections as it is connected to the party’s voters and elected officials whom it has helped get into office. Its support helps win elections. That is a good thing when one wants a party to succeed. However, many believe that County does not have the needs of the Southeast Queens voter as a priority. It is viewed as governed and controlled by North Queens and is dominated by elected officials like Congressman Joseph Crowley and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz. Many believe that aligning with County means making deals with elected officials that represent white interests.
In response to the direct question about lack of choice; “the other candidate was kicked off the ballot by the same machine that is supporting this candidate. So why not give other people a chance”, Congressman Meek’s response was. “Everybody should have a chance. You also have to understand what the rules of the games are. You have to play by the rules. There is a reason that process is in place to make sure that people are doing what they are supposed to do.”
Is Hyndman doing what she is supposed to do in the race? Hyndman has been making the rounds of the community on the arm of Senator Leroy Comrie. Comrie is one of the better known and likeable of the electeds. This alliance gives Hyndman an advantage and a leadership position without having to work independently to garner favor and respect from constituents. Beware. There is caution in alliances.
The SE Queens electeds backing Hyndman represents a political union that has represented the community for decades. This long history might be great if residents felt the community was excelling as a result. Instead there is a feeling of the same old guard doing the same old thing. Where is the change and new ideas and energy from the youth? Additionally, Comrie, being the last elected and with strong support from outside the community, is most closely associated with County. Hyndman has been known to refer to Comrie as her ‘boss’. Not a good sign.
Terryl Ebony is continuing in her election bid and her campaign continues on as a write in candidate. Although she has very little chance of winning (write in candidates don’t fare well on Election Day), that has not dampened her zeal or effort. To her credit, she is optimistic about her chances.
But this is Ebony’s first run and, while she has some salient points about the fact that people are tired of the same old politics and the community’s right to decide, she is still a novice when it comes to politics and her platform is not compelling enough to ensure success. Better education, affordable housing and economic development will be her focus if she attains office. She is passionate about ‘raise the age’ which looks to increase the age of criminal responsibility. Ebony also wants residents to be more educated in politics and to create sustainable businesses. Her success will lie in getting residents more engaged in the process while connecting that with her platform regarding disenfranchisement through lack of choice.
But when the best option in a race which is a Democratic Party stronghold is the Republican candidate, clearly there is a problem.
Scherie Murray is currently the elected State Committee Woman and District Leader. She has worked in the community on issues including the plight of veterans and has made a few attempts at higher elected office. She is polished and knowledgeable about current issues, policies and the workings of the legislature which gives her all the qualifications of a great candidate. But she is a Republican.
The symbol of today’s Republican Party is that of an old, white, conservative man. It is anti-Obama and anti-Black. As such, her candidacy may be too bitter a pill to swallow for voters to cross the party line to vote for her. Conversely, that she is a Republican in a Democratic stronghold, does count for something. And it does symbolize change. But is it too much of a change?
In an interview Murray spoke about her party, her constituents and why she should get the vote.
“My party precedes me here in Southeast Queens,” she admits. “The party has been demonized mainly by local legislators. People who are in office and when they come back and give reports to the community it is often ‘Republicans this and Republicans that’ and that is why we are not getting anything done.”
However, Murray believes she has been effective. While individuals may not see an effort by the Republican Party to penetrate this district or put forth an urban agenda, Murray believes her work represents the Republican effort in the area. “Since I’ve been elected, I’ve been active, engaging, building at a grass roots level.”
The challenge with the Republican Party is that it does not support issues that are key to African Americans and have been behind recent efforts of voter suppression. Republican candidates and elected officials in areas surrounding Southern Queens support legislation and policies that don’t reflect an urban agenda. Initiatives like ban the box, an effort to rid job applications of the ‘convicted of a crime’ question, for example are not supported by the party and several Republican politicians have pushed back against Black Lives Matter protesters. Murray addressed her stand as a Republican.
“You cannot associate one individual with another just because of a party. That’s not how it works. If that is how it works, then we would associate all the corruption in Southeast Queens with all of the current legislators and we don’t do that”.
“Our constituents are different,” she said of candidate Joseph Concannon who is running for Council District 23 formerly held by Mark Weprin. Concannon represents an anti-urban agenda and was used representatively to demonstrate the Republican stance.
“I vote for the people and not for the party,” said Murray. “It’s the district issues that I will take to Albany. Everything I talk about is for the benefit of the 29th District. My issues are the community’s issues. I’m not putting out an agenda that I feel would be better for the community I’m putting out an agenda that the community feels is better for the community.”
When addressing why voters should cross the party line in their vote, Murray sited voter suppression as the main reason, pointing to the lack of choice of candidates representing the Democratic Primary.
“There is no voter suppression when it comes to [the Republican Party] fielding candidates [for President]. That should be looked at to say we can do that locally here. There are no opportunities [locally] for persons who want to be leaders and who want to become elected officials if you are not a part of a certain niche group within the local legislative group. If our democracy is based on someone handpicking who is now going to be out legislator I don’t think that does a service to us as a community. Especially when you have long standing community members who may be tapped but wouldn’t be tapped because they are not a member of that core group. This race speaks in volumes in a community that wants change and that can actually get change by electing me.”
Her most persuasive argument for crossing the line reflects what the community is hoping it gets in their next leader.
“I am the only leader in the race, elected in a leadership role. No one is telling me what to do, no one is telling me what to say. I’ve gotten here on my own accord. I think that speaks in volumes to me as a candidate and the type of leader I would be.”
The general election is November 10, 2015. Both Hyndman and Murray are unopposed in their primary bids.§ (photos k.clements)