Strictly Stasi
by Anthony Stasi
Jun 02, 2009 | 12378 views | 0 0 comments | 92 92 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Melquiades (Mel) Gagarin is running for the City Council in what still looks like a competitive field in the 29th district in the Kew Gardens and Forest Hills sections of Queens. The politics in Kew Gardens are not terribly hard to define. The overwhelmingly Democratic district will most likely only see a race in this year's Democratic primary and not the general election.

The issues are, for the most part, public education and fairness for commuters - by way of fare hikes. Gagarin is 27 years old, and for a City Council that sees change through term limits, perhaps a younger candidate is not necessarily at any disadvantage the way he might be if he were running against a 14-year incumbent.

Gagarin feels that mayoral control of the school system is an idea that could use some improvement.

"There are weaknesses in the program. It's critical to have parents at the decision making table," says Gagarin.

It's a common thread in this year's election cycle in regard to education. Public education is a tough issue politically, because candidates need to show where the failures in the system are without making students and educators look as though they are to blame.

Gagarin is well educated, graduating from American University in Washington, D.C. and then working in liberal Democratic politics right away. He eventually worked as an aide to State Senator Jose Serrano and then for Congressman Anthony Weiner (which can actually count as having military combat experience). He now works as a media manager for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

What Gagarin has to his advantage is that Weiner lives in Kew Gardens, and it cannot hurt for a lesser-known candidate to have a link to a well-known congressman in the area. Gagarin is likely to face Lynn Schulman, as well as Heidi Harrison Chain in the primary, among others.

Chain, a self described "peopletician" has logged 20 years at the New York City Department of Finance, where she is director of Legal Affairs. She also serves as president of the 112th Precinct Community Council.

Schulman is a respected community presence who has some educational heft of her own. Schulman was recently endorsed by the far left Working Families Party. That endorsement aside, Schulman stands to get some good mainstream support, especially from establishment political figures that respect her work on gay rights issues.

Mel Gagarin stands as a formidable candidate because his opponents are going to be splitting votes among their own pocket constituencies. But since Gagarin is just introducing himself, he can present a fresh political face to go along with a look that - like Eric Ulrich in the 32nd District - dispels any thought of politics as usual.

He takes a careful step to criticize congestion pricing, saying that it was a "good idea with poor execution." Most Queens politicians are not fans of congestion pricing since that policy stood to hurt the commuting public and not the Manhattan crowd. He is careful, and he speaks to the issues with scholarship. The candidates in this district are articulate and prepared to do the legislative heavy lifting.

This is going to be a good race in the 29th District. It's unfortunate that there is really no GOP presence. For those of us who still think a democracy should have more than one party, it is just something for which to wait and hope.

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