With less than a month remaining until the nonpartisan City Council special election for the 24th District seat, this publication is reminding readers to be aware of their poll sites and the candidates on the ballot, and to mark Tuesday, February 2, on your calendars. Having interviewed James Gennaro and Neeta Jain last month, we now turn to two more candidates who have reached out to the Queens Jewish Link but in actuality happen to be our neighbors and demonstrated a thorough knowledge of Jewish communal priorities. In a ranked choice election, voters can choose all of the candidates mentioned above, ranking them based on preference.
Deepti Sharma was observed this past Chanukah at the Tomchei Shabbos warehouse in Kew Gardens, bringing her personal and professional experience as the CEO of Food to Eat, which assists small restaurants in catering services, purchasing meals from them and passing them on to communities in need. Her participation in the kosher food distribution was welcomed by Tomchei Shabbos president Shimi Pelman and Assemblyman Dan Rosenthal.
“During the pandemic, we’ve shifted to food insecurity work, assisting pantries with grants, and that’s what we’ve brought to Tomchei Shabbos,” Sharma said. She seeks to apply her experience as a food service entrepreneur to help restaurants recover from the pandemic, and make food more accessible to people in need.
As with five other candidates out of the eight running, if elected, Sharma would make history as the Council’s first member of South Asian descent. Hillside Avenue comes to mind, with its many mosques, mandirs, and Bengali storefronts, but Sharma was born and raised in Kew Gardens Hills. “We would write Flushing on our address, but it’s 11367. I attended PS 201 near Queens College and my son now goes there,” Sharma said. “I’m running to represent every single community in this district.” She is a married mother of two boys.
Last month, The Jewish Vote, a leftist organization that does not represent the views of most Jews in this district, endorsed Moumita Ahmed and Sharma in this race and I feared that having such an endorsement would put Sharma out of step with actual Jewish voters on Main Street. My first question addressed the slogan of defunding the police. “We would relieve the burden on the NYPD of answering every 911 call. When there is an emotionally disturbed person, a social worker should be called, but safety comes first,” she replied. “And likewise there would be security for synagogues.”
The endorsement of this activist group often overlaps with the Democratic Socialists of America, or DSA, which openly supports boycotting Israel on its candidate questionnaire. Sharma distanced herself from that survey. “I’ve gone twice to Israel and was supposed to go this past August on a trip for entrepreneurs. I’ve talked to people who live over there and I understand the meaning of Israel. I’ve educated myself about the Jewish community and I’ve worked with Israelis.”
Concerning the questionnaire, Sharma did not waste her ink and postage on it. “I did not apply for their endorsement. Their questionnaire made me uncomfortable.”
After graduating neighborhood elementary and middle schools, Sharma went on to Brooklyn Tech and SUNY Stony Brook, and she is a member of the boards of these two institutions. Having taken the subway to high school, she spoke of improving high schools across the city so that students would not have to commute for more than an hour to get to class. “We have Townsend Harris in this district and we need more specialized high schools,” she said. “Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza don’t have a real plan for this.”
She then turned her attention to Main Street, where she does much of her shopping. “I eat at Naomi’s Pizza and Queens Pita. I’ve also been talking to the NYC Hospitality Alliance to discuss commercial rent relief that is acceptable to the landlords and restaurant owners. Can the sales tax be turned into a grant? Can the city provide PPE and other safety measures?”
To keep small restaurants afloat, Sharma coordinated a $130,000 fundraiser that purchased meals and distributed them to domestic violence shelters and pantries. Looking forward to a post-pandemic district, Sharma looks forward to dining indoors again on Main Street. “I don’t want to go to Astoria or Bell Boulevard to eat. I want to celebrate in my district. We need these places for celebrations.”
Dilip Nath lives in Hillcrest, a couple of blocks from former Councilman Rory Lancman, with many American-born Jews, Bukharians, and Israelis among his neighbors. His first home was in Kew Gardens Hills, or as he described it, “a short ride up the Van Wyck from the airport where I landed.” He relates to the Jewish community from his own experience as a Hindu in Muslim-majority Bangladesh and as a 16-year-old immigrant whose first years were spent on construction sites and behind the wheel of a cab.
“Then once, I took the 7 train and saw a phone number for a GED program. I studied with a book from the library and then I attended SUNY,” he said. He has taught at SUNY as an adjunct professor and is the chief information officer at SUNY Downstate, focusing on IT as it relates to medical records.
Closer to home, this married father of two is active on the civic scene as president of the New American Voter Association (NAVA), as a member of Community Board 8, the Queens Jewish Historical Society, the John F. Kennedy Democratic Club, and the local Community District Education Council. When Melinda Katz was elected as District Attorney in 2019, he served on her transition team. He previously ran for City Council in 2005, losing to Gennaro.
Last March, Nath tested positive for COVID-19, and he spoke of food insecurity, hospital beds, and access to doctors as priorities for the district. “I’d like to see more testing sites, and food distribution. I’d like to see an expansion of telehealth so that seniors do not miss their appointments and a simple call to the young people so that they do not miss their vaccines,” he said. “We’ve lost hospital beds in our district in the past decade, and that’s why Queens became the epicenter of COVID.”
On education, Nath also spoke of expanding specialized high school sites in Queens and recognizing the importance of religious schools. “My son attended preschool at St. Nicholas of Tolentine and then Molloy High School in Briarwood,” he said.
Concerning public safety, Nath opposed defunding the police. “We need more police, not less, to protect our middle and working classes. Police reform is needed, there’s overtime waste, and some hearings can be held virtually to save money. This is a family district; it is not socialist.”
Nath spoke of his neighbors who have a home in Israel and share their experiences with him. “I’ve felt strong ties between my roots and Israel. Today, Israel and India share their innovation. Then there’s my neighbor Rachel, a typical Jewish lady who speaks Hindi because her family had lived in India,” Nath said. “Our cultures care for family and community.”
Nath has not visited Israel but said that if given the opportunity, he would do so, expressing opposition to the DSA questionnaire that mentions boycotting Israel.
Concerning small businesses that are suffering from pandemic restrictions, Nath supports suspending commercial real estate taxes and extending grants.
“Not much has changed since I came to this district four decades ago, and that’s the problem,” Nath said. “The Van Wyck is still under construction, we still send our kids out of the borough for a prestigious education at Stuyvesant or Bronx Science, and our hospitals remain outdated. These, and similar situations keep piling up because our leaders don’t solve them. So, when crises like COVID come along, we also must deal with the issues of a decade ago when we deal with our kids’ remote learning and our hospitals’ capacities. I know I can do better for Queens residents.” Dilip Nath
Also on the Ballot
Along with James Gennaro, Neeta Jain, Deepti Sharma, and Dilip Nath, the ballot also includes attorney Soma Syed, leftist activist Moumita Ahmed, real estate broker Michael Earl Brown, and perennial candidate Mujib Rahman. Syed and Rahman do not currently live in the district. Among these, Ahmed has the largest number of Twitter followers and high-profile endorsements, consisting of other progressive politicians and organizations.
The ballot has the appearance of a spreadsheet, where names in a row are ranked in order of preference by columns. Early voting will be conducted between January 23 and 31. The election is open to all registered voters residing in Kew Gardens Hills, Fresh Meadows, Hillcrest, Briarwood, Jamaica, and Jamaica Estates, regardless of party affiliation.
By Sergey Kadinsky