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Maverick Politics

by Gotham Gazette Staff, Jul 28, 2003

Queens City Councilmember Allan Jennings does not believe in the old adage "politics is the art of compromise."

In just his first two years in office, Jennings, who represents the neighborhoods of South Ozone Park, Richmond Hill, and South Jamaica, has made a habit of publicly confronting the most powerful people in the city.

Last fall, Jennings was one of only three Democrats to defy both Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Gifford Miller and vote against the 18.5 percent property tax. Jennings said the Mayor Michael Bloomberg responded like a "dictator" when the mayor took away his City Hall parking permit.

Then Jennings likened himself to Jesus Christ and Speaker Miller to a Roman emperor when Miller removed him from a council committee. "Two thousand years ago, there was a man from Galilee who did not agree with Caesar and he too was sacrificed and punished," said Jennings on the floor of the council.

A few months later, Jennings angered police officials at an oversight hearing in the City Council when he released the names, badge numbers, and job titles of undercover officers. Police Commissioner Kelly said the council member put the lives of officers at risk; Jennings said that the police department was avoiding using civilians to do work assigned to uniformed officers.

The council member maintains that he is just speaking his mind and being an independent voice for his constituents. "I will never be anyone's rubber stamp," Jennings said.

However, not everyone in the district agrees that the incumbent's tactics are the best way to represent the community. This fall, Jennings faces five Democratic challengers and one Republican who contend that the council member's actions are nothing more than showmanship.

"It is facetious for the incumbent to talk about voting against the property tax," said Democratic challenger and economist Inderjit Singh. "He knew it would pass anyway. I would like to have seen him work with his colleagues to come up with other options."

Jennings is also not endorsed by the county's Democratic Party.

"I have the respect of the community and of the city agencies," said Yvonne Reddick, the head of community board 12, who has the backing of the party. "My priority is to open lines of communication and get things accomplished."

Personalities aside, all of the candidates agree that there are serious issues – like economic development, education, and crime - facing the district.

Thousands of people travel through district 28 every day while driving on the Van Wyck Expressway, on the Long Island Railroad, or flying out of John F. Kennedy airport, but few stop to do business or spend money there. Some argue that the area should be getting more benefits from the area's transportation infrastructure. "There is $25 to $30 billion worth of work going on at the airport, but there is high unemployment in the community," said Inderjit Singh.

Education is another concern since only 38 percent of high school students in the area graduate on time. Among his accomplishments while in office, Jennings is most proud of starting after-school programs and securing $7.5 million to purchase computers for every 3rd, 4th, and 5th grader in the district. "Education is the number one issue in the community," said Jennings. "Everyone is anxious about the restructuring of the Board of Education.”

Crime is also a top priority. In the first six months of the year, there have been 15 murders in the 103rd police precinct, more than in all of the previous year. Some crimes have been covered extensively in the news and have given the area a notorious reputation. For example, Jam Master Jay of the rap trio Run-DMC was killed in a Jamaica-area recording studio late last year.

"Instead of wasting time with what the mayor did or did not do, we need to solve our own problems," said Republican candidate Carolyn Younger-Nolan, the founder of an organization Black Families International. "Black-on-black crime is my top concern."

Candidates Garth Marchant and Stephen Jones are also running as Democrats (neither could be reached for an interview), but it is unlikely that all of the candidates will get on the ballot. In 2001, there was a flurry of legal challenges as the candidates sued to knock each other off. "It all depends on how my competitors behave," said Inderjit Singh, who was knocked off of the ballot last time. "I am not surrounded by a bevy of lawyers."

The incumbent Councilmember Jennings said he is not worried about the legal challenges from the Queens Democratic Party or the fact that they are not endorsing him. "I am still going to win and that means I am still a free man," said Jennings.

Posted July 28, 2003

Campaign Update:

In mid-August, Councilmember Allan Jennings became the first incumbent politician in the history of the city to be knocked off the ballot by his own party.

The Queens Democratic Party, which has a history of conflict with the one-term council member and is supporting Yvonne Reddick , challenged Jennings in court, claiming that his 3,300 signatures were fraudulent. State Supreme Court Justice Janice Taylor - who has received the backing of the Queens Democratic Party throughout her career - kicked Jennings off the ballot.

For a few weeks, it looked like the incumbent might not be able to run for his own seat.

Jennings appealed and a five five-member panel of the Appellate Division eventually reversed the lower court ruling, citing "irregularities" in the signatures, but no fraud.

"I feel personally vindicated," said Jennings. "This is now a race between me and the Queens Democratic organization."

Yvonne Reddick said that the she did not take part in the challenge and countered that Jennings had challenged the petitions of each of his opponents. Jennings was successful in knocking Democrats Stephen Jones and Garth Marchant and Republican Carolyn Younger-Nolan off of the ballot.

Democrat Inderjit Singh was also kicked off for a few weeks, but he was successful in his appeal and is back in the running. "Most people when they hear you are in court or have been knocked off of the ballot think that you have done something wrong," said Singh. "I know it's part of the game, but it is wrong."

In fundraising, Allan Jennings has raised $43,235 and will receive $16,003 in matching funds. Yvonne Reddick has raised $25,044 and will receive $14,770 in matching funds. Inderjit Singh has not posted any fundraising information with the city's campaign finance board.

Updated August 29, 2003

Last Updated (Jul 18, 2013)