By David Brand
The predominantly black neighborhoods of Southeast Queens comprise one of the country’s largest and most reliable Democratic strongholds.
The region is rich with engaged and informed voters who head to the polls in high numbers, and yet, neighborhoods like St. Albans, Cambria Heights and Hollis are often ignored by local election-watchers — and candidates themselves.
Local leaders and organizers say that is the case again in the wide-open, seven-candidate Democratic Primary to replace the late Richard Brown for Queens district attorney.
“We’re used to it,” said Donnie Whitehead, a local activist who has endorsed Mina Malik for Queens District Attorney. Whitehead and his wife JoAnn Whitehead co-founded the organization CommUnity 1st alongside organizer Oster Bryan. “Black folks have been voting Democratic for the past 60 years only to see the Democratic Party ignore black voters.”
“If they don’t spend time here during their campaigns, then when they get into office, forget about it,” Whitehead continued.
The influential organizers gained notoriety when they rallied behind Barack Obama in the 2008 New York Democratic primary and helped deliver the 5th Congressional District for the future president, even though party leadership had backed Hillary Clinton.
Southeast Queens elected officials with deep ties to the Queens Democratic Party have lined up behind Borough President Melinda Katz, who has a campaign office in Rochdale. U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, the county party chairperson; Assemblymember Alicia Hyndman; and Councilmembers Adrienne Adams and Donovan Richards are among the dozens of elected officials who have endorsed Katz.
Whitehead said they don’t necessarily represent the perspective of everyday voters.
“That has nothing to do with what people are thinking on the ground,” Whitehead said.
Malik has made a point of canvassing in the area, he said. Her campaign staff say they have concentrated a significant get out the vote effort in the area, knocking on doors and attending community events throughout the area. Before announcing her candidacy, Malik attended various events like a February 113th Precinct Community Council meeting in Jamaica that featured a panel discussion about the state’s Raise the Age law.
Meeting attendees from South Jamaica and surrounding communities discussed the importance of Southeast Queens in the DA race with the Eagle, describing the community as a voting bloc candidates would be wise to engage.
Nearly four months later, the race remains open and — as is often the case in Queens — comes down to the voters of Southeast Queens.
Former Queens Judge Gregory Lasak commissioned an organization to conduct polling of 400 registered Democrats in the borough between May 28 and May 30. Queens Patch obtained the polling data, which indicates that 35 percent of Queens Democrats remain undecided with less than a month to go before the June 25 primary.
About 34 percent of respondents said they would vote for Katz, while 10 percent said they would vote for Lasak and Cabán.
But Allan AME Lawyers Guild President Victoria Brown-Douglas said not to count out Councilmember Rory Lancman.
Brown-Douglas, a defense attorney, declined to endorse a candidate in the race because of her role with the lawyers guild, but said Lancman has laid the groundwork and reached out to residents of Southeast Queens for more than two years.
“Rory has been in my church,” said Brown-Douglas, who started a Southeast Queens Court Watch program that visits the Queens Criminal Courthouse earlier this year. “He came and he spoke to us and he’s been supportive of all of our programs.”
The candidate who wins the race will be the person whose message most resonates with Queens’ black voters and best addresses the issues they face, she said.
“The people in the community aren’t about endorsements; they’re about who comes out to talk about their sons and daughters,” she said. “They’re the ones whose kids are affected [and] hopefully those same people come out to vote.”