South Queens Council race grows

Seven candidates so far have entered the field to succeed Queens’ only Republican councilman, Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), who will be term-limited out of office at the end of 2021 — including four new entries since the Chronicle last updated the state of the race in July.

Since then, young paralegal Shaeleigh Severino, filmmaker and community arts advocate Ruben Cruz, former teacher Helal Sheikh and Community Board 9 Chairman Kenichi Wilson have all registered to run for the seat with the Campaign Finance Board.

As of July teacher and activist Felicia Singh, attorney Mike Scala and city planner Kaled Alamarie had all filed to run, with District Leader Lew Simon expressing interest as well.

The field for District 32, which stretches over the west part of the Rockaways up through Howard Beach, Ozone Park and parts of Woodhaven and Richmond Hill, now boasts an increasingly diverse set of candidates both in terms of age, experience and ethnicity.

Of the four new candidates none have reported the amount of money they have on hand yet, but Severino, the youngest of the field at 21 years old, has created an extensive website detailing her platform, which centers on education and public safety.

Severino, a Democrat who describes herself as “an advocate not a politician” said that her background assisting residents from Queens at a civil law firm where she focused on elder law, and experience as a young black woman who grew up in Woodhaven and Ozone Park, would be critical to both those areas.

Cruz, a Richmond Hill resident who is planning to run as an independent, said that he believes his experience running a theater and film group for seniors has put him in touch with the district’s needs. He is running on bringing more funding to the area.

Sheikh, a Democratic former public school mathematics teacher who lives in Ozone Park, is framing himself as someone who understands the challenges of the education system and is well-equipped to reform it.

Of these four candidates Wilson, a Democrat, is the only one who currently serves in a governmental role as the chairman of Community Board 9, an experience that changed his life after Ulrich singled him out and convinced him to join the board. Asked what his priorities would be as a councilman, Wilson said that quality-of-life concerns would play a central role.

Public safety and police reform, which became hot-button issues across the country during this year’s state and federal elections, prove divisive issues for the candidates.

Severino, who had made public safety a central part of her campaign, avoided some of the more incendiary rhetoric and demands of the George Floyd protests over the summer.

“In order to really combat the issue of public safety it’s not just about budgeting,” Severino said, adding that it’s about supporting legislation that counters automatic immunity for police as well as effective community-oriented programs.

Severino’s plan includes expanding the Crisis Management System, a program that trains “credible messengers” to mediate conflicts in order to prevent gun violence. She is also proposing reallocating money from the Homeless Outreach Unit of the NYPD to the Department of Homeless Services.

While her focus on changing the structure of policing is broadly shared by Cruz and Wilson, their policy ideas were less precise.

“I think we need to reorganize how the police works,” said Cruz, proposing that transit and housing police be separated from the rest of the department. Wilson, who said he first got into community service when he signed up as an auxiliary police officer, said that he was broadly for police reform and open to looking at the budget but that he would be nervous to do anything to jeopardize the Neighborhood Coordination Officer program.

Sheikh was the only candidate of the four to say that he does not support taking away any of the funding from the NYPD budget.

“We should stick together to find what would be better for police officers and civilians,” he said.

Sheikh, a residential landlord who ran for the seat in 2017 but lost the Democratic primary to Mike Scala, has sketched out the most detailed part of his platform on housing issues, where he proposes offering “strong incentives for developers to build more affordable housing” and helping homeowners pay down city liens.

His approach in that area again differs from that of Severino, whose more renter-centric housing platform includes the call to “cancel rent,” while proposing not to create more homeless shelters, criticizing them as a “Band-Aid on the issue of the lack of affordable housing.”

Wilson proposed taking a critical look at the city’s mandatory inclusionary housing guidelines, and Cruz proposed mortgage relief for homeowners and suspending rent for the rest of the pandemic.


The article has been updated to make clear that Severino assisted Queens clients in her capacity as a paralegal rather than represent them.


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