Gregory W. Meeks, who is seeking a 10th term in Congress, will face off next Tuesday against Ali Mirza, an Elmont businessman who wants to reform the immigration system, in a Democratic primary in the 5th Congressional District.
Meeks, 63, of St. Albans, Queens, has wide name recognition and a major fundraising advantage in the district, which is located primarily in southeast Queens, but has nearly 60,000 voters in Nassau. Meeks, a former assistant district attorney and special narcotics prosecutor in Manhattan, serves as ranking member of Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia.
Mirza, 58, is a Pakistani immigrant who twice ran unsuccessfully for the Nassau County Legislature in the 3rd District. Mirza also was an aide to Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, and to former Democratic County Executive Thomas Suozzi. Mirza owns Mirza Strategies and Public Relations, an Elmont communications firm.
The 5th District has about 400,000 registered voters, including 57,209 voters in Elmont, North and South Valley Stream and Inwood. There are 295,129 registered Democrats, 34,174 Republicans and 60,034 voters not aligned with a major party, according to the state Board of Elections. Members of minor political parties comprise the rest.
Since the start of the election cycle in January 2015, Meeks has raised $688,432, spent $734,097, according to Federal Election Commission records, and has $103,982 on hand.
Mirza, who entered the race in January, has raised $59,553, spent $16,188 and has $15,694 on hand, according to filings.
Meeks said his priorities include working with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to ensure that flights from John F. Kennedy International Airport are spread out more evenly so certain neighborhoods don’t bear the brunt of the noise.
“It’s about developing a sense of fairness,” said Meeks.
Meeks also wants to renew the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban. The law, which Congress allowed to sunset in 2004, prohibited the sale of certain types of firearms and high ammunition magazines.
“We are talking about sensible gun control, including background checks and getting rid of these weapons of mass destruction,” he said.
Meeks and Mirza both want to redevelop state-run Belmont Park in Elmont.
Since February 2013, the Empire State Development Corp. has been considering bids for projects at the 36-acre site, including a privately funded soccer stadium, hotel and retail center. Other bidders have proposed privately-funded complexes with retail, restaurants and a supermarket. The state has yet to make a choice.
“We are not going to get everyone to agree but it’s important that we get something done,” said Meeks, who is not backing any of the bids.
Mirza says Belmont is underdeveloped but adds that “the devil is in the details. If it creates real economic growth, I will support it.”
Mirza says he wants to prohibit companies that move jobs overseas from receiving federal contracts, increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour and work to bring a Department of Homeland Security training center to JFK.
Mirza supports measures to provide undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship. “We need an immigration policy that treats people with fairness and respect,” he said.
If elected, Mirza said he plans to introduce legislation to bar for-profit firms from running prisons — a practice that he says keeps people locked up longer than necessary. “Our youth are serving unfairly long sentences while private corporations get paid,” Mirza said.
The candidates disagree on some economic policies.
Meeks supports the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, the largest regional free trade accord in history, arguing that the deal is needed to expand and protect New York jobs tied to the international economy.
Mirza, an opponent, contends it will allow for greater outsourcing of American jobs. Mirza criticized Meeks for “ignoring” the Nassau portion of his district, saying the congressman’s focus is in Queens. “Long Island deserves to have proper representation,” Mirza said.
Meeks says he is active in Nassau and calls Mirza a “political opportunist who is just trying to get his name out there.”
Republicans have nominated Michael O’Reilly, an attorney and former U.S. Marine, as their candidate in the 5th District in November general election.
Gregory W. Meeks
Home: St. Albans, Queens
Education/Career: Meeks received a bachelor’s degree from Adelphi University and a law degree from Howard University. He was elected to Congress in 1998 to fill the seat of Democratic Rep. Floyd Flake, who retired. Meeks is the ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia and a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee. Meeks served three terms in the Assembly from 1992-1998.
Family: Married with three daughters
Education/Career: Mirza received a bachelor’s degree in international relations from the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut. He owns Mirza Strategies and Public Relations, a communications firm. Mirza served as Nassau’s director of minorities and women business enterprises and as a special assistant for communications and community affairs under former County Executive Thomas Suozzi. In 2013, County Executive Edward Mangano hired Mirza as a part-time Parks Department community affairs liaison. Mirza left the position in March. Mirza lost elections in 2005 and 2007 in Nassau’s 3rd Legislative District against Republican John Ciotti.
Family: Married with two daughters