Half-dozen say why they should be BP

Candidates talk Queens issues in hopes to replace Melinda Katz

During last Saturday’s forum for borough president candidates in Forest Hills, the half-dozen hopefuls looking to replace District Attorney-elect Melinda Katz were asked what they would do differently than she would if they were elected.

Former Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley said, “I don’t think the borough president was bold enough in her vision for Queens in terms of building our transportation infrastructure.”

Crowley, who’s been attempting to get passenger service on the Lower Montauk Branch of the Long Island Rail Road, noted that Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. recently got a rail line expanded. She also said the community boards weren’t as diverse as the areas they serve.

Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) also spoke about the makeup of community boards.

“I wish that was an area that she took a lot more ownership in,” he said, adding she could have enacted her own term limits, which would have ensured more turnover and diversity as demographics began to shift.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) criticized Katz as being part of the “Democratic machine.” She supported Amazon’s planned move to build a second headquarters in the borough “without even talking to me,” he said. “That is the work that she often did in this borough ... it was done with respect to politics and political relationships and who was in favor and who wasn’t in favor.”

He disagreed with Richards that Katz was equitable in funding districts and also criticized the community board appointments.

Retired NYPD Sgt. Anthony Miranda said transportation wasn’t improved and that the borough president “didn’t do the things that were necessary to alleviate the overcrowding of our schools.”

Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) said Katz missed an opportunity to lead the way in combating climate change by solarizing and greenroofing schools as well as missed an opportunity to build the borough’s transportation network.

“Too often it’s a ceremonial office,” Constantinides said.

Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman (D-Springfield Gardens) said it’s important for the borough president to work diligently with business improvement districts and small businesses.

“I think that’s one of the areas she fell short on,” Hyndman said.

Katz’s term is scheduled to finish at the end of 2021 but she will begin her new job as district attorney on Jan. 1, 2020. A nonpartisan special election will likely be called, similar to the race for public advocate earlier in 2019.

The candidates were asked about several topics, including homeless shelters.

Constantinides said, “People are only one or two paychecks away from homelessness,” and that shelters being built too far from transit hubs doesn’t help anyone.

Hyndman said there needs to be more equity in the borough.

“No one community should bear the brunt of homeless shelters in this borough and I think that’s been disproportionate,” she said, adding that people lose their humanity when they say they don’t want them around.

Crowley, who was in office when the shelter for Cooper Avenue was initially proposed, said, “There’s no room for intolerance or racism when it comes to homeless families.” She added that she believes added transit would provide jobs and places to live.

Richards denounced the rhetoric used at a public hearing in Middle Village regarding the shelter.

It was “really shameful to say we should burn down a shelter with people who can’t afford to live in New York City because luxury housing has been built at a historic level.”

Van Bramer also criticized the ongoing protests of shelters.

“Queens is better than that meeting,” he said. “Queens is better than protesting outside of homeless shelters, yelling at children and families who are in need.”

The lawmaker said he voted against the plan to close Rikers Island and build four borough-based jails, including one in Kew Gardens, because “We have $10 billion to spend on brand-new mega jails but not on building affordable housing for homeless individuals.”

Miranda said a problem is that many of the shelters have turned into permanent housing.

“We’re doing an injustice to the people that we’re trying to assist by letting them live in these conditions,” he said.

The candidates were also asked about land-use issues.

“If we’re pricing out or we’re gentrifying communities then that’s where the borough president has failed,” Hyndman said.

Like Hyndman, Crowley said the next borough president needs to listen to the community boards and said there needs to be engagement.

“Amazon’s mistake was going to Long Island City and Long Island City alone,” she said of the online retail giant’s proposed second headquarters, which was scrapped after community pushback.

Richards, former chairman of the Council’s Zoning Committee, noted the importance of making community boards diverse.

“Not every community board supports affordable housing,” he said.

He would also create a zoning task force if elected that would make recommendations for development locations so that we’re not getting trapped.”

“Too often we are waiting for the administration to come to us and say, ‘We want to rezone here,’” Richards said.

Van Bramer, who was vocal against Amazon’s planned move to the area, spoke of the “arrogance” of Gov. Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

“That was a victory for all people in Queens,” he said of the plan’s failure.

Van Bramer added that he believes every candidate for political office, as well as those already in office, should take a pledge not to take money from real estate developers.

Miranda said the development issue in the borough didn’t happen overnight and is the work of politicians.

“That was a victory,” he said of the pushback against Amazon. “What did we do after that? Where’s the plan to bring in the jobs that we’re talking about?”

Constantinides said it’s overdue that city-owned property should be for public use only.

He said what often happens in situations is that “We give away the pie to the developer and then they give us a piece of the pie back ... it was our pie to begin with.”

Saturday was the second time in three days borough president hopefuls spoke in the neighborhood. Last Thursday at the Forest Hills Jewish Center, Richards, Constantinides, Hyndman and Crowley showed up at different times to make their cases.

Richards addressed the Amazon situation, saying, “We can’t kill jobs in our borough.”

He said that Bartlett Dairy, which supplies every Starbucks in the city with its milk, was talked into coming to the outskirts of JFK Airport. There will be 400 union jobs with an average salary of $75,000, according to the lawmaker.

“Not everybody’s killing jobs in Queens,” Richards said.

Constantinides spoke about his green-minded policies and said he would create a deputy borough president for sustainability and resiliency to fight climate change.

“I want to solarize and greenroof every school in Queens,” he said, adding that related lessons would also be in a curriculum.

Hyndman was asked about Gov. Cuomo’s plan to add 500 transit police officers to crack down of fare beating.

“While I understand law and order, I don’t believe in overpolicing,” she said, adding that 250 officers would have been better and that it’s important to make sure residents have access to MetroCards.

“We want people to obey the law but three officers for one lady with a basket of churros, I think, is a bit excessive,” she said, referring to a recent incident at a station.

Crowley called Queens the “forgotten borough” when it comes to funding and also told the audience she was the first Democrat and first woman elected to the City Council in her district.

“Imagine a district just next door that isn’t nearly as forward thinking as this district,” Crowley said.