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Meeks, Steinhardt face off in 5th Congressional District

Democratic Rep. Gregory W. Meeks, who is seeking a ninth term in Congress, is facing off in the 5th District against Allen Steinhardt, a contractor who wants to repeal the Common Core curriculum and bring more federal money to the Rockaways.

Meeks, 61, of St. Albans, Queens, has a major fundraising advantage and strong name recognition in the district, which is predominantly located in southeast Queens, but has about 50,000 voters in western Nassau.

Steinhardt, making his first run for public office, is campaigning to put more control of the school curriculum in the hands of teachers, and to boost the Rockaways, which he says the federal government has neglected since superstorm Sandy. He is not registered with any major political party and is running on a party line bearing his name -- "Allen for Congress."

The fight for the 5thThe 5th District includes 54,536 voters in the communities of Elmont, North and South Valley Stream and Inwood. The district, which was redrawn after the 2010 census, was represented previously by Democratic Rep. Gary Ackerman, who did not seek re-election in 2012.

The district's registration is 301,082 Democrats; 35,339 Republicans and 56,703 voters not aligned with a major party, the state Board of Elections says.

Through the end of June, Meeks' campaign had raised $687,782, spent $566,715 and had $108,681 on hand, according to the Federal Election Commission. Steinhardt has not reported any fundraising or spending.

Among the pressing issues in the district, Meeks said, are noise complaints in Valley Stream and Elmont, which are in the flight path of Kennedy Airport.

"It's a difficult scenario," said Meeks, who represented the old 6th District in Queens for seven terms. "I understand the airport can't be the best neighbor but let's see what we can do to make it a better neighbor."

Meeks is pushing the Port Authority to spread out flights more evenly across communities so particular neighborhoods don't bear the brunt of the noise. He also wants to develop an advisory committee of local residents and advocates to help address the issue.

Meeks said in the next session he wants to spearhead a massive infrastructure bill to repair subways, bridges and the Long Island Rail Road. He also plans to push for comprehensive immigration reform.

But Meeks could face a tough road on such major initiatives. Republicans have imposed significant budget cuts and have blocked Democratic efforts to fix the immigration system.

Meeks said he also is focused on making flood insurance more affordable for district residents, particularly those in flood zones who were affected by Sandy.

Marc Tenzer, co-president of the Mill Brook Civic Association in Valley Stream, said residents living in flood zones have been hit with hikes in flood insurance since Sandy. "There's no rhythm or reason for it," he said. "We have homeowners spending up to $3,000 for flood insurance."

Tenzer said Meeks has been responsive to the district's concerns but said he should open an office in Valley Stream. Meeks said he would like to open an office there, but it's not feasible now because of federal budget cuts.

Meeks said he is also pressing for redevelopment of Belmont Park in Elmont.

The state Empire State Development Corp. is considering several private sector bids to develop the 36-acre site, including a soccer stadium, retail and recreation complexes, community centers and grocery stores. The state originally said a decision would be made by August 2013 but agency officials say the issue needs more study.

Joyce Stowe, president of the Tudor Manor Civic Association in Elmont, said Meeks should become more involved in the process and press the state to expedite a decision. "This is a vital economic project," Stowe said.

Meeks said the community is split on the proposals but "no one disagrees that we need to economically develop this underutilized land. We may need to compromise and find a solution that is beneficial to everyone in the community."

His reason to runSteinhardt, 54, of Rockaway Park, said he was spurred to make his first run for office by the "lack of support from the federal government" in the Rockaway peninsula after Sandy.

He notes that while Long Beach unveiled a new boardwalk earlier this year, a plan to repair the Rockaway Beach boardwalk, which was also destroyed in the October 2012 storm, has yet to begin. Steinhardt did not work on the Long Beach project.

The New York City Parks Department originally budgeted $274 million for a new 3.5 mile concrete boardwalk in the Rockaways to replace the old wooden structure. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to announce $480 million in federal funds to rebuild the boardwalk and for other amenities to the area. The project is slated to be completed in 2017. "This area should be a resort town," Steinhardt said. "But the community has been shortchanged by the federal government."

Steinhardt's agenda is largely focused on education. He wants to repeal the Common Core curriculum and allow states and individual teachers to set education standards.

Steinhardt also wants to provide tax credits for students in the district -- which includes many low-income families -- to attend private schools, and would hire a liaison in his congressional office to deal with concerns and issues raised by school principals. "We need to get back to basics in the classroom and give teachers what they need to teach," he said.

He criticizes the Obama administration for withdrawing troops prematurely from Iraq, saying that created a power vacuum that allowed the Islamic State group to flourish.

Steinhardt said he would caucus with House Republicans if elected. "Nothing is getting done in Congress," he said. "I would work across the aisle for the betterment of the district."

The candidates

Gregory W. Meeks

Party: Democrat

Age: 61

Hometown: St. Albans, Queens

Education/Career: Meeks, who also has the Working Families line, received a bachelor's degree from Adelphi University and a law degree from Howard University. Meeks was elected to Congress in 1998 to fill the seat of Democratic Rep. Floyd Flake, who retired. Meeks is the ranking member of the Financial Institutions Subcommittee and a senior member of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere and the Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats. Meeks served three terms in the Assembly from 1992-1998.

Family: Married with three daughters

Campaign fund: In the 2013-14 cycle, through June 30, raised: $687,782; spent: $566,715; cash on hand: $108,681.

Allen F. Steinhardt

Party: Allen For Congress

Age: 54

Hometown: Rockaway Park

Education/Career: Steinhardt graduated from the Perth Amboy Vocational School, a high school in New Jersey, and received a degree in computer science from Cittone Institute in Ramsey, New Jersey. He previously owned a contracting business and now works as an independent general contractor.

Family: Married; no children

Campaign fund: In the 2013-14 cycle through June 30 raised: $0; spent $0; cash on hand: $0.

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