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Southeast Queens politics

Cyril Josh Barker | 4/12/2011, 5:32 p.m.

A new politician, massive foreclosures and issues with Aqueduct Racetrack are just a few of the things that Southeast Queens is dealing with post-election.

While voters decided to keep Congressman Gregory Meeks in office, local citizens in the city's 28th District decided to put Ruben Wills in office after the death of City Councilman Thomas White Jr. earlier this year. In a special election, Wills beat Nicole Paultre Bell, widow of the late Sean Bell, who was fatally gunned down by police in 2006.

In a recent interview with the AmNews, Meeks said that while he threw his support behind Paultre Bell because she had a story to tell, she had something to bring to the table because of her experience.

"I called [Wills] the day after the election to congratulate him and told him that I look forward to working with him," Meeks said. "He's worked with Shirley Huntley and Leroy Comrie, so he'll get the job done."

Meeks said that in his congressional district, which covers neighborhoods including Jamaica, Cambria Heights and St. Albans, issues plaguing his constituents are foreclosures, needed improvements in public schools and unemployment. The area is also dealing with crime and recently had a rash of shootings. Meeks believes that lack of jobs and the rise in violence go hand in hand.

"When you find violence, jobs are going down," he said. "You have to have a strong focus on creating jobs, because if you don't, people are going to end up doing what they have to do."

In an effort to create jobs, the Congressman wants to expand small businesses in Southeast Queens. He said he's laid the foundation with several nonprofits, including the York College Small Business, the Jamaica Business Resource Center and the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation to get grants.

As jobs are a focus, the area recently got what is hoped to be a much-needed economic boost with the building of a racino at Aqueduct Racetrack. While the project did not go to a minority developer, Meeks said that 25 percent of the construction and jobs would be 25 percent minority.

With one of the city's top areas for foreclosure rates, the economic crisis has crippled many homeowners in Southeast Queens. Meeks said that this issue is his No. 1 priority for his constituents, and blames fraudulent mortgages and predatory lending for the high foreclosure rate.

To educate people on how to handle foreclosure, Meeks brought in several nonprofit organizations and counselors. All he asks is that his constituents use them.

"Bottom line, we have to save people from losing their homes," he said. "We have to work closely with them to try and have people utilize these services."

The past midterm election brought a shift of power in the U.S. House of Representatives. Meeks said that while the country has spoken, he's disappointed at the voter turnout.

"I'm still reeling from the loss," said Meeks. "The GOP will no longer be in a position to just say no to everything. They didn't work in a cooperative spirit to get things done. Now is the time for them to put something up and see what their agenda really is."

On the recent guilty verdict of Meeks' colleague, Rep. Charlie Rangel, by a House ethics subcommittee, Meeks called Rangel an "America hero." He added that Rangel did not get a fair trial and that Rangel has the right to present a full defense.

"I am disturbed that the Standards Committee proceeded to its conclusions without affording Mr. Rangel the fundamental right to make his case with counsel present," he said. "In the name of expediency, the committee has sacrificed the constitutional rights of a member of Congress who has defended the Constitution for decades."