Congressman Gregory Meeks, a Democrat from St. Albans, now in the final year of his 10th two-year term, is being challenged by Elmont community activist Carl Achille and Queens resident Mizan Choudhury for the right to run against a Republican opponent for the 5th District seat.
Meeks said that he still has much work to do and that in this “unique time” and in his “unique position” he wants to make sure that he gets certain things done for his constituents, noting the political tenor of the Trump Administration.
He pointed to immigration as one of the prime issues that is vital to the communities he serves.
“Out in Nassau County, people see a lack of American values, with children being separated from their parents,” he said, highlighting current Administration policy when handling illegal immigration cases. He underscored the end of Temporary Protect Services and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known commonly as TPS and DACA, as well as health care and climate change, as key issues that need to be addressed.
Meeks cited the passage of a bill to expedite the Army Corps of Engineers study of the South Shore as a way to help quicken the pace of building infrastructure that aims to mitigate the damage from heavy storms such as hurricanes. The bill has yet to be approved in the Senate.
“The money is just sitting there waiting to be utilized and it’s my hope, my belief, when I get re-elected that the Dems re-take the majority and we can pass a comprehensive immigration bill.”
When he announced his candidacy, Achille claimed that Meeks was “going through the motions,” and added, “He’s not really doing the job in Washington.”
The veteran representative scoffed at that notion. “That’s laughable, he should come to work with me,” Meeks said, “it makes me wonder if he knows what we do. I work seven days a week. Most mornings I’m up by 6 or 7 a.m. and don’t finish until between 8 and 11 p.m.”
Meeks, whose committee memberships include financial services and foreign affairs, said that he has tried to battle the existing political divisiveness by working across the aisle and adhering to this bit of wisdom. “Half a loaf is better than no loaf at all,” he said, noting that compromise is part of politics.
“Congress was never meant to be a monarchy,” Achille responded. “I have tremendous respect for Mr. Meeks. That he has risen as far as he has is impressive, especially as a person of color,” he said. “People like him have made it possible for me. But 20 years is enough. It’s time for change. He may think he’s doing the job, but I’ve been knocking on doors. People never see him.”
“This is a very, very important election,” he continued. Like Meeks, he wanted to send a Democratic majority in the Congress but also emphasized local concerns. “I’ve been out there knocking on doors, talking to people in the community.”
Achille echoed Meeks in speaking of the range of issues confronting people in the district. “If you live in the western part of the district [Southwestern Queens], the big issue is transportation. If you live in the Rockaways, it’s about infrastructure. In the eastern part of the district, it’s about smart growth,” he said. And everywhere “it’s about immigration, jobs and health care.”
Achille pointed out the high rates for some types of cancers in Elmont as an example of local concerns that have lain unresolved, despite long-term engagement within the community. “We have some cancers that are nearly double the national average. We’ve been trying to get to the bottom of the problem for years.” With his mother diagnosed with cancer in 2016, “this is personal to me. We need someone who’ll keep digging, who’ll keep asking questions until we get some answers,” he said.
Choudhury, a businessman with more than 18 years of experience with Fortune 500 companies is an active Democrat who said job training, affordable health care and housing, supports immigrants and criminal justice reform are his issues.
The 5th district includes Southwest Queens, Inwood, north and south Valley Stream and Elmont.