Dozens of Caribbean Americans in New York braved snow, ice and freezing rain Monday, January 28 to show strident support for a Jamaican community activist, Michael Duncan from Kingston, who is a candidate in the race for council member in upcoming special elections in Queens. The elections are taking place in the 31st Council District just three weeks away, on Tuesday Feb.19. This special election is necessary as the sitting council member James Sanders Jr. was elevated to the state Senate in general elections last November to replace scandal-scarred lawmaker Shirley Huntley who was ousted from office by voters.
Michael Duncan, 49, has a new home page for leadership and with some 20 years of community activism under his belt. He he says he has refused to be a part of the old school party machines. He and eight other hopefuls have jumped into this race that many of the 80,000 registered voters in the constituency would probably ignore. Voters normally don’t pay much attention to special elections in New York. But this time is different. The race is attracting an unusual amount of community and media attention because one candidate, Jacques Leandre, has filed objections with the Board of Elections and law suits in the Supreme Court against nearly all the candidates in the race. As it happens, all six contenders that Haitian hopeful Jacques Leandre is seeking to remove from the ballot are Black- Caribbean Americans and African Americans. The sole Jewish candidate in the race has been spared Leandre’s wrath. Leandre’s objections appear to be based on his presumption that the other candidates have filed fictitious names in their election petitions. The Board of Elections requires at least 450 signatures on a candidate’s submission for the candidacy to be valid.
The Board of Elections has already informed Michael Duncan that at the vetting of the first of two volumes of his petition, he had already garnered more than 1,150 signatures of the 450 required. Consequently, the Board of Elections saw no further need to continue vetting the second part of the petition.
“What Jacques Leandre is doing here in trying to eliminate bona fide candidates from the City Council race. This is an outrage to the residents of Queens and an assault on democracy,” an enraged voter, Lakeisha Thelwell who had come out to support Michael Duncan complained. “This is plantation style slavery politics, it is very un-American and we won’t stand for it here in Queens,” she continued, undaunted by snowflakes tumbling down her face.
Michael Duncan who hails from the Shortwood Avenue area of Kingston and who only a few weeks ago orchestrated “Christmas in the Rockaways”, an event that brought Christmas cheer and fulfilled holiday wishes for hundreds of Hurricane Sandy victims in the constituency, was very resolute in his repudiation of the tactics of Jacques Leandre.
“Many of the other candidates and I soundly reject this old plantation-style Anancy politics that seeks to take us off the ballot by trickery although we’ve been the ones here working night and day for the betterment of this community”, Michael Duncan told Caribbean Life. “This is Tom Foolery deception, voter suppression, disenfranchisement, and we distance ourselves from those icons of underdevelopment. We support unity, community and inclusion”, Duncan further declared at the Merrick Boulevard protest. Duncan was joined by two other candidates in the race, Marie Adam Ovide and Earnest Flowers.
Michael Duncan is a Garveyite, a businessman and was chief-of-staff and budget director to former City Council member James Sanders, Jr. Duncan has been PTA president for various public schools. He led the fight to remove hot sheet motels from residential areas in Queens. He developed a business model to generate jobs and to reduce unemployment and he revived the Rosedale Soccer Club to help kids build character through sports.
The Queens 31st Council District includes the communities of Laurelton, Springfield Gardens, Rosedale and the Rockaways. The district has a large Jamaican population that contributes to the almost 80 percent chunk of Blacks in the area. One longtime political observer in Queens, Mr. Desmond Clarke, president of the Jamaica National Movement in New York is convinced that the frivolous electoral objections and lawsuits from Leandre are a strategy to divert energies and focus from campaigning. Observers say the ploy will also delay city funding for campaigning for all the candidates named in the objections, thereby weakening their effectiveness in getting their messages out quickly to the public.
Doug Muzzio, a specialist in American public opinion, voting behavior and city politics and a political analyst for ABC News has said that in a large field of candidates as is the case in Queens, a relatively small number of votes can win. “New York ballot access laws are intentionally byzantine, designed to allow party machines to thwart insurgents and reformers”, Muzzio told Caribbean Life.
For his part, Michael Duncan understands clearly that he must bring out the Caribbean American voters to win the race on February 19. And community leaders in New York like Desmond Clarke of the Jamaica National Movement, Irwine Clare of the Jamaica Diaspora U.S. Northeast Advisory Board and Darnel Abellard of L’Association des Ouanaminthais, a Haitian organization, have all unreservedly endorsed Michael Duncan and are urging their members to throw their support behind Duncan on February 19.