Nunes Takes on Huntley in Queens
by Courtney Gross
Aug 30, 2010
On a cordoned off Laurelton block, State Sen. Shirley Huntley stood completely still, clasping her hands, one over the other, as a local pastor serenaded the crowd a cappella.
The gospel tune, "To God be the Glory," reverberated off of the brick exterior walls of St. Luke Cathedral, while some attendees of the church's annual family fun day chowed down on corn bread and others listened attentively.
The song was dedicated to Huntley -- a former president of a Community Education Council who has served in the State Senate since 2007.
"There are times when you need that," said Huntley when the music stopped, "and I just want to thank you."
A week earlier, Huntley stood outside of her Jamaica home to denounce the delivery of a bouquet of flowers on her doorstep. The bouquet was emblazoned with: "Rest in Peace."
Apparently, Huntley has made some enemies during her short tenure in the State Senate. She now faces a strong challenge from Richmond Hill native Lynn Nunes, who fell four votes shy of claiming the late Thomas White's City Council seat last fall. Nunes is capitalizing on Huntley's vote against same-sex marriage late last year.
Huntley says her reputation and dedication to the community will prevail.
A World Apart?
A day earlier in Richmond Hill, Nunes climbed into a shiny, black Jaguar owned by his father. The 25-year-old, who heads his own real estate company, Five Star Realty, set out with his volunteer coordinator to visit prime Democratic voters. He hopes to knock on thousands of doors before the September 14th primary.
"I am either going to be a senator or the best door-to-door salesman," Nunes quipped.
Young yes, Nunes says, but he has been involved in the community for years. Casting himself as part of the movement to reform the State Senate following stalemates and coups, Nunes says he wants to increase transparency of legislators' outside income and advocate for independent redistricting reform. He wants to see the state budget plan for several years at a time to prevent Albany from rolling over its financial woes from one year to the next.
Nunes doesn't want to raise taxes -- even on out of state hedge fund managers -- and wants to encourage projects like the Aqueduct to create jobs in the district -- which stretches across southeastern Queens.
Nunes's youth (which the 72-year-old incumbent calls inexperience) is what appeals to some voters, like Mohammad Zaman, a resident of 125th Street in Richmond Hill.
"I like the young and immigrant people," Zaman said, after shaking Nunes's hand and pledging his vote come September. (Nunes's mother is Chinese and his father is Portuguese.)
Nunes isn't afraid to take Huntley on. He charges the senator stood by and allowed hospitals to close recently in the borough, depriving the district of nearby health care options. He has demanded the two meet face to face in a debate.
Huntley, however, refuses.
Back in Laurelton, Huntley, clad in black, swishy pants and a lilac windbreaker, explained why.
"No, I don't know him," Huntley said. "He has no background in government. What would we talk about?"
Huntley calls Nunes's claim she let hospitals, like Mary Immaculate and St. John's, close "ridiculous." The senator said she met with the governor several times in an attempt to keep them open. She also got legislation approved in both houses of the State Legislature that requires public hearings and planning when hospital closures are proposed (the bill was vetoed by Gov. David Paterson).
Like Nunes, Huntley said she would like to see a hospital reopen in the area. "But I'm not going to be pie in the sky," she added.
If re-elected, Huntley said she would continue the work she has been doing. She said she had no problems with how the State Senate passed the budget this year (four months late and piece by piece), because she wouldn't approve anything "bare bones."
Huntley also denies she had anything to do with the funding of an education group she founded. The group has received $30,000 in public funds since 2007, according to the Daily News.
When asked whether she feared anti-incumbent sentiment would rub off on her, Huntley said she hasn't been in the Senate long enough to be considered entrenched.
Where Support Lies
One vote has spurred much of the opposition to Huntley's re-election: her no vote on same sex marriage.
Nunes has picked up support from the Empire State Pride Agenda, the Stonewall Democratic Club and Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the city's first openly gay speaker, all because he has pledged to support same-sex marriage should it come up again in the next session.
ďLynn Nunes has proactively and unequivocally stated his support for marriage equality, transgender civil rights and other issues important to the LGBT community," said Ross Levi, the executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, in an e-mailed statement. "His opponent has made no similar public commitment. To the contrary, she voted against New York giving marriage licenses to same-sex couples in the same way our government does for all other loving, committed couples."
Huntley said she voted against same-sex marriage after polling her constituents, 62 percent of which opposed the measure, she said. She personally wouldn't give her position on same-sex marriage.
"I donít have a personal anything," said Huntley at a community event in South Jamaica. "Frankly, I donít give a damn."
That support from the gay community has helped Nunes legitimize his candidacy and raise more money than the incumbent in the July filing period. Currently Nunes has $112,218 to spend, while Huntley has $43,148. Nunes donated at least $23,000 of his own money to the campaign, according to state filings.
Overall, Nunes has spent the vast majority of his campaign account on wages for campaign staff, while Huntley has put her funds toward fundraisers, meals at restaurants and literature, according to campaign finance records. She has also hired the publisher of a local Queens paper as a campaign consultant.
Despite Nunes's edge in fundraising, Huntley says she is not worried about her re-election bid.
At the St. Luke family fun day, the crowd cheered as Huntley took the microphone. Along the block, re-elect State Sen. Shirley Huntley lawn signs speckled front lawns and some constituents called her a "girlfriend" not a politician.
The senator reminded everyone to go out to vote on primary day.
"I didn't go for Shirley Huntley," the senator said of her time in Albany. "I go for all of us."
Discuss this Article
Other Related Articles:
Senate Republicans in No Rush on Health Insurance Exchange (2011-09-01)
As Redistricting Hearings Begin, Many Think They Shouldn't (2011-08-10)
Before Passing Marriage Bill, Senate Extended Rent Regulations and More (2011-06-27)
Failure of Redistricting Reform Could Bring Reprise of 2002's Fiasco (2011-06-16)
Will Albany Allow the Rent Laws to Expire? Does it Matter? (2011-06-14)
Ethics Deal Breaks Logjam But Leaves Key Issues Behind (2011-06-06)
Cuomo Takes His Issues to the People (2011-05-05)
Putting the 'Public' in Public Meetings (2011-04-19)