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USA Harpreet Toor Cites Education In Council Bid

Chaan Pardesi

Oct 4, 2008
London & Kuala Lumpur
[SIZE=+2]Harpreet Toor cites education in Council bid[/SIZE]
by AnnMarie Costella, Chronicle Reporter

Harpreet Toor says that improving education is the key to creating jobs and reducing crime.

Harpreet Toor says increasing the quality of education is best way to improve the community and will lead to job creation and lower crime rates.

But that is just one of many issues this single father of two from Richmond Hill is focusing on as he tries to claim the District 28 City Council seat long held by the late Tom White Jr.

“If we can improve on the schools and make education better, down the road everything takes care of itself because a well-educated kid will never go to the wrong side of the law,” Toor said. “So the first thing we have to do is address how we can get the schools working in a proper way.”

Toor says his top priority is to stop budget cuts, keep qualified teachers in the classroom, maintain library hours and expand after-school programs. He says the City Council should fight to make sure that city schools get the same funding as others around the state that often get more.

Toor, 56, immigrated to the United States from India in January 1983 with just $20 in his pocket and a dream of a better life. He settled into the south Richmond Hill section of Queens and performed odd jobs, before eventually finding work with the city’s Human Resources Administration.

“I found the same issues, which are still relevant today, which are broken schools and healthcare facilities, transportation issues, road cleaning issues, economy issues,” Toor said. “There have been slight variations, but nothing much changed.”

From the beginning he struggled to overcome the racism he sometimes experienced. “I was working at a particular location and this 80-year-old woman came up to me and said, ‘Hey you, young boy, why don’t you go home and shave and take a shower and then come back?’” he recalled. And that actually made me realize how much work needs to be done within the community to make people aware of our culture.”

Toor’s desire to help others comes from a value taught within the Sikh religion called seva — voluntarily helping fellow human beings without expecting anything in return.

In 1983, he joined the Sikh Cultural Society, an organization that helps new immigrants more easily transition into American life, and over the years has held different posts within the group, including acting as its president and chairman. He helped the organization expand its library, orchestrated youth trips, organized the Sikh Day Parade in Manhattan and invited various leaders to speak to the group’s members in an effort to get them more involved in the political process.

But Toor wants to help promote tolerance and acceptance of all people from every culture, not just his own, something he says he will work on if elected.

Since he believes that education is key, he thinks community boards should devote a portion of their monthly meetings to specifically addressing race and tolerance. He also believes that schools should teach children about all the diverse cultures in their neighborhood, as well as some of their languages, like the Chinese dialects and Hindi.

Unlike many area leaders, Toor does not support the Aqueduct racino deal because he says it will produce low-paying jobs and that the increase in gambling will be detrimental to the community. “There is a high school and a middle school near there, and what kind of message are we sending to our kids?” Toor asked. “When kids are growing up, they need role models and those role models are not created in casinos and other gambling places.”

In addition, he noted that no portion of the site has been set aside for any park or other recreational activities — something that would allow the project’s developers to give back to the community.

Toor acknowledged that the city and state have dug themselves into a hole financially, but believes there is a better way than the Aqueduct racino to get out of it. “It all comes down to education,” he said. “Right now we get people from all over the world to come in and do the jobs that we should be training people here, educating people here, to do.”

That, he believes, would balance budgets by raising tax revenues. Toor himself last worked for the Census Bureau.

In response to the violence that has been rising in the southeast Queens community recently, Toor says stricter measures need to be taken to keep illegal guns away from youth and that he supports gun buy-back and mentoring programs.

“When these gangs take shape, it is because these kids growing up don’t get any other chance,” Toor said. “They don’t have mentors and other people that they can associate with and the gangs take advantage of that.”

Although Toor says that on the whole his campaign is going well, candidate Albert Baldeo is contesting his petition to get on the ballot, alleging that hundreds of the signatures he collected are invalid. Toor insists that he has enough propersignatures.



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