The recent spate of arrests and criminal investigations involving public officials has ensnared a high percentage of minorities in the state Legislature, leading some in the community to ask if black and Hispanic lawmakers are being targeted.
State Sen. James Sanders (D-Jamaica) decided last week that the question of conspiracy or corruption was far better-suited for an open, frank and free-wheeling debate before nearly 200 people at the Black Spectrum Theatre in Roy Wilkins Park in Jamaica.
A panel consisting of former Assemblyman Michael Benjamin (D-Bronx), student Betty Mahmud of the New York City Urban Debate League and Terryl Demendonca of the Misunderstood Youth Center argued that corrupt politicians come and are prosecuted in all colors and ethnicities.
Attorney Richard Washington, student Tyler Anderson of the Debate League and Paul Nichols argued that the numbers and percentages of investigations run suspiciously and disproportionately high among minority legislators. Nichols, a member of Sanders’ staff, said he was speaking for himself and not the senator.
The moderator was Prof. Leonard Baynes of the St. John’s University School of Law.
A show of hands in the remaining crowd at the end of the evening came down 27 to 24 in favor of the corruption argument.