BY JAMES FARRELL & NATHAN DUKE
Queens’ City Council members and challengers vying for their offices took the stage together on Aug. 17 for a candidates forum at St. John’s University that was hosted by the PRESS of Southeast Queens.
The event was divided into two sections. The first included Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) and his challenger, Ackman-Ziff Managing Director Alison Tan; Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) and his challenger, urban planner Paul Graziano; Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Glendale) and her challenger, civic leader Bob Holden; ex-councilman Hiram Monserrate, who is running for Julissa Ferreras-Copeland’s (D-East Elmhurst) seat; and Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest). For complete coverage of this section of the debate, read Thursday’s issue of the Queens Tribune.
The second section included Councilman Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens) and his Republican challenger, former NYPD captain Joseph Concannon; Community Board 12 chairwoman Adrienne Adams, attorney Hettie Powell and community activist Richard David, who are all running for former Councilman Ruben Wills’ vacant seat; former marine and District 27 candidate Anthony Rivers, who is challenging Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans); and Mike Scala and William Ruiz, who are running for Councilman Eric Ulrich’s (R-Ozone Park) seat.
Topics at the forum included everything from transportation and homelessness to education and crime.
During the first round of debates, most of the candidates discussed the need to combat overcrowding in schools, while Southeast Queens’ candidates focused on whether the city should focus its spending on public schools and the lengths to which it should support charter schools.
“This is America—everybody wants a choice, but don’t take public funds and put them into private entities,” said Rivers. “Let’s fix our public schools.”
Most of the candidates agreed that parents have the right to send their children to any school in the city, but not at the taxpayers’ expense. They also said that students in Southeast Queens are underperforming and that district schools are lacking in resources.
“Teachers do not have the resources they need,” Adams said. “We need to build schools and increase arts programs.”
Scala said that he believes schools in his district need more programs to teach children how to use computers, but also an increased emphasis on the instruction of “practical skills.”
“Stop incentivizing teaching to the test,” he said.
Concannon cited recent work with Queens College to bring a “Global Science Program” where Queens College teachers “teach the teachers” in local schools to a school within the 23rd Council District. Grodenchik cited frequent visits to all schools in his district, a new playground, auditorium seats and a science lab at I.S. 109.
Housing And Homelessness
On the issue of housing, most of the candidates agreed that the New York City Housing Authority was being mismanaged and that there are simultaneously numerous vacant apartments in NYCHA properties and waiting lists for those seeking a place to live.
“We need to put pressure on the mayor,” David said. “There’s an $18 billion gap at NYCHA.”
Several of the council districts represented at the forum have been directly affected by the issue of homeless shelters and homeless people being housed in hotels.
“This has been the mantra and clarion call for decades,” Adams said. “We’ve been a dumping ground for whatever other communities don’t want. We’ve done it for decades. Everybody needs to bear this burden, not just Southeast Queens.”
Scala said that the Rockaways has also been a prime location for homeless shelters.
“I’m in support of making sure local community boards and elected officials are part of this conversation,” he said.
Ruiz also pointed to the Rockaways as a problematic area of homeless shelters—especially in hotels, which he described as inadequate.
“There are no kitchens,” he said. “How do you expect a family to cook for their kids when all they have is a microwave?”
In a topic only discussed in the second forum, candidates discussed a reported rise in hate crimes and other issues.
Concannon argued that police have appropriate resources to deal with hate crimes, but that “the community itself does not reach out to the police department and does not join its programs.” Grodenchik blamed President Donald Trump, saying “he may have been born in Queens, but Queens was not born in him.”
Other candidates said that they believed that there should be stricter penalties for perpetrators of hate crimes and more protections for city residents.
“We don’t have enough protections in place,” David said. “Communities of color do not have enough protection. As a City Council member, I’ll have zero tolerance against any hate crime.”
Concannon, the only Republican to attend the forum, also expressed support for stop and frisk, calling it a “critical component” of policing. That put him at odds with the Democrats on the panel, including Grodenchik, Ruiz and Scala, who argued that the NYPD’s own data showed that most people who were stopped and frisked were innocent.
And Adams said that stop and frisk has overwhelmingly targeted people of color.
“Stop, question and frisk has been used to racially profile black and brown communities,” she said. “Anyone who says it is not is not being honest.”
With the exception of Concannon, the candidates mostly agreed that there should be lesser penalties for “quality of life” crimes—such as public urination.
“I don’t want to see the prosecution of low-level crimes,” Powell said. “These arrests have consequences for immigrants and people living in NYCHA.”
When asked how to deal with the “transportation deserts” of Queens, candidates in the first round had a variety of answers.
Crowley pushed for her light rail proposal to run from Jamaica to Long Island City, which recently received funding for a feasibility study. She accused Holden, a member of Community Board 5, of being the only the only person against her proposal in her visits to community boards.
During the debate’s lightning round, the candidates said that they believed education, job training for youths and apprenticeship programs were vital to handle unemployment in their districts. Concannon, Ruiz and Scala said that they were against de Blasio’s proposal to tax the city’s wealthiest residents to pay for the MTA, while David, Adams, Powell and Grodenchik supported the plan.
And on the second panel, Concannon was against New York City’s status as a sanctuary city and opposed a $15 minimum wage, while the other candidates supported both.