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First Impressions: Queens Borough President Forum

Costa Constantinides, Elizabeth Crowley, Danniel Maio, Anthony Miranda, Donovan Richards & James Quinn

queens borough president candidates 2020 queens bp election 2020January 19, 2020 / Jamaica Neighborhood NYC / Queens Politics NYC / Queens Buzz NYC.

On Sunday I went down to Jamaica town to watch the candidates for Queens Borough President talk about themselves, their qualifications and their take on the issues facing Queens. The following is an account of what I saw and heard.

The photo at right shows six of the nine Queens Borough President candidates [from left to right] - Costa Constantinides, Elizabeth Crowley, Danniel Maio, Anthony Miranda, Donovan Richards & James Quinn - at a forum in Jamaica on Sunday.

Queens Boro President Candidates Forum in Jamaica

The event was held at the Harvest Room, which is on 160th Street just off Jamaica Avenue and adjacent to the Jamaica Market. The forum was moderated by NYS Senator John Liu and an attorney Soma Syed, and organized by the Community Alliance Group and the American Pakistani Advocacy Group. The moderators, John Liu and Soma Syed, are shown in the photo below.

Queens Borough President Office Election is on March 24th, 2020

queens borough president candidates 2020 queens bp election 2020They started the forum about an hour late, as they postponed the start time, while waiting on some of the candidates’ arrivals. There are currently nine people running for the Queens Borough President Office, and the election is scheduled for Tuesday, March 24th, 2020. Of the nine candidates, six participated in the forum. Notably absent was one of the leading Progressive candidates, NYC Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, as well as two far lesser known candidates, Dao Yin and Everly Brown.

The 2020 Queens Borough President Candidates in Attendance at the Forum

Those participating included: 1) former NYC Councilmember from Ridgewood and former Queens Democratic Party Chairman Joe Crowley’s cousin, Elizabeth Crowley, 2) Progressive NYC Councilmember Costa Constantinides of Astoria, 3) Democratic Party Machine favorite NYC Councilmember Donovan Richards of Jamaica, 4) former map maker and the only Republican in the running Danniel Maio, 5) former Assistant District Attorney James Quinn, and 6) former NYPD Sergeant Anthony Miranda.

Queens Borough President Candidates Introductions

I stayed for about 90 minutes, which covered the candidate introductions and six major questions. I didn’t stay for the short answer questions, nor for the audience questions, which sometimes can be the best.


First Impressions: Queens Borough President Forum

Costa Constantinides, Elizabeth Crowley, Danniel Maio, Anthony Miranda, Donovan Richards & James Quinn

January 19, 2020 / Jamaica Neighborhood NYC / Queens Politics NYC / Queens Buzz NYC. Continued.

 

James Quinn - Queens Borough President Candidate

queens borough president candidates 2020 queens bp election 2020Former Assistant District Attorney James Quinn went first, telling us that the reason he’s running is because he believes that the NYS Legislature made a grave mistake with its recent criminal justice reform bill, which no longer requires bail for people who commit fairly serious crimes. He also said he’s against the closing of the Rikers Island prison, which already seems to be in motion, but rather that he’s for restructuring Rikers instead of moving inmates out into prisons in the boroughs.

Quinn didn't make any claim to his Irish immigrant roots, likely because his family arrived on our shores generations ago.

The photo at right shows six candidates vying for Queens Borough President at a forum in the Harvest Room in the Jamaica neighborhood of Queens.

 

Donovan Richards - Queens Borough President Candidate

Donovan Richards talked about what he’s been doing in his district, telling us that that is what he would do for Queens. He said his district added 6,000 affordable housing units since he came to office. He noted that there’s $2 billion in spending covering 53 or 55 projects to address the flooding in southeastern Queens, which was the result of Hurricane Sandy. And he noted that since he came to office a $50 million dollar library has been erected in the Rockaways and the 116th Precinct has been redone.

Donovan Richards said his father was a [Haitian?] immigrant and recently became a U.S. citizen. He also said losing a friend to gun violence when he was younger, led him to seek public office.

 

Anthony Miranda - Queens Borough President Candidate

queens borough president candidates 2020 queens bp election 2020Anthony Miranda said that most of the candidates at the forum have been government officials for a while, and if they haven’t already accomplished what they’re promising you now, then what’s to say they’re going to do it if they are elected Queens Borough President?

He said that one Queens District has been recipient to 14 new schools, while other districts have received none. He said he’s from Brooklyn originally, but has been living with his wife and kids in Queens for the past 14 years. Miranda said he is a Hispanic and was formerly a sergeant on the NYPD.

Editor's Note: Generally the new schools in Queens are erected because of overcrowding in districts due to population growth, while the populations in other districts are not growing.

The photo at right shows five of the six candidates vying for Queens Borough President, a couple of hours into the forum. Elizabeth Crowley is not shown as she departed early.

 

Danniel Maiao - Queens Borough President Candidate & Only Republican

Danniel Maio is a former map maker and the only Republican on the ballot. He showed us a map that he’d created of downtown Manhattan, and said that a lot of data goes into the making of such a map.

Maio is an immigrant from Taiwan, and he wanted us to know that as Queens Borough President he will collect data from the community and put it on a map that can be used to create a new vision – the community’s vision.

 

Elizabeth Crowley - Queens Borough President Candidate

queens borough president candidates 2020 queens bp election 2020Elizabeth Crowley told us that her grandparents were Irish immigrants. She went on to say that she is one of 15 kids and that her father died when she was 7 years old. So she knows what it is to struggle.

She started her career doing art restoration projects [I think this was on or in buildings] and that through this work she became involved in the union. She went on to become the first woman, first Democrat and first union member to become NYC Councilmember in her district.

The photo at right shows the folks interested in learning more about the Queens Borough President candidates in the Harvest Room in Jamaica on Sunday, January 19, 2020.

 

Costa Constantinides - Queens Borough President Candidate

queens borough president candidates 2020 queens bp election 2020Costa Constantinides talked about the importance of [I think he said affordable] housing. He went on to say that he thought that green roofs and solar panels were a way to mitigate climate change. He said that Queens has more trailers at its schools than any other borough and that he would work to remedy that.

Editor’s Note: The de Blasio Administration has reduced the number of trailers at NYC Public Schools from 354 to 154, and they have plans in place for another 80 or so. To eliminate the trailers requires building new schools or adding on to existing ones, which takes time in terms of securing land and construction.

Constantinides also said that Queens needs better representation on the MTA Board, as representatives from Putnam County, with only 98,000 residents, has about a quarter of the seats, and nearby Nassau County also has a representative, while Queens with 2.2 million residents doesn’t have any representation. Costa said his father was a Greek immigrant.


I. Queens Public Transit Deficiencies

Donovan Richards said that the recent bus system proposal, which reconfigures routes, seemed more like it was contracting service than expanding it. He said that the LIRR is too expensive, and that given the Congestion Pricing bill passed in Albany he wanted to see Queens get its fair share of the revenue, since motorists from Queens would be significantly affected.

Editor’s Note: The Congestion Pricing bill passed last year and involves adding tolls to the bridges which cross the East River. The Queen Borough Bridge is one of the bridges to which tolls will be added.

Anthony Miranda said he wants to see more direct investment into fixing the existing MTA, before coming up with new ideas like the BQX [a bus line between Brooklyn & Queens traveling along / near the East River waterfront]. He also said he wanted to see more community involvement in the planning process for bus routes / transportation services.

Danniel Maio said that he will take community input and “put it on the map”. He said in this manner we would be dealing without politics and words, just facts.

Elizabeth Crowley told us that Brooklyn has about two times as many subway stops and Queens, and yet only about 7% more population. Editor’s Note: the population differential depends on estimates, some of which indicate the differential could be as high as 15%. She went on to note that about 85% of Queens is a transit desert.

Crowley wants to reactivate the Rockaway line, Montauk line and add a Triborough extension. She also said that the LIRR is too expensive.

Costa Constantinides returned to what he said in the introduction, that being Queens doesn’t have enough representation on the MTA Board. He noted that the new bus plan is focused on getting people to and from the airport and to and from Manhattan. What it doesn’t address is moving Queens residents around Queens to schools and work and to visit their friends. He also said we need more money from the MTA, NYS and DOT. Local representatives need to be pressured to do more to address this issue.

James Quinn said that there isn’t enough input from Queens into public transit decisions. He said the new bus plan proves that. And he mentioned that there’s been talk about extending the E line further east in Queens where there isn’t good mass transit connections into the city.

Donovan Richards seemed to support extending the E, F and #7 subway lines further east in the borough. He noted that there was a proposal [by Grodenchik?] to that effect. But he went on to note that it’s not that easy as you need to buy land, and may have to use eminent domain to remove folks from their homes.

Anthony Miranda said building out new subways in this day and age is complicated.

Elizabeth Crowley said that the E and #7 subway lines are already operating at full capacity. To extend them would make things worse, as you can’t fit any more cars on those lines. She said that we need to find other solutions, which is why she is proposing reactivating old rail lines.

Constantinides said we need more money from Albany and need community input.

James Quinn said we need to do something now, not later.


II. Affordable Housing in Queens

Anthony Miranda said we need to use the community land trust more so that the government can control the housing built. He said people need access to housing that is near where they go to school or family. He also said there should be a moratorium on luxury housing, as that is being built for wealthy outsiders, not the people who live here.

Danniel Maio said that the government is taxing people too much. He estimated that taxes have risen two to three times in the past 20 – 30 years. Editor’s Note: This is unconfirmed, but I believe the tax increases are mostly due to the rapidly rising prices of real estate / assessments. Maio said that capping or lowering tax rates will enable people to stay in their homes. He said he would put the homeless students on a map to be enable diagnosis of the problem.

Elizabeth Crowley said that Queens represents 30% of the population and receives only 10% of the housing preservation funds. She implied that real estate developers fund candidates in order to access / influence them after elected. But that she gets most of her campaign money from small donors. She said something to the effect that even some of the non-profit real estate developers short change workers.

Costa Constantinides said that NYC gives public property to developers and in turn gets some of it back in affordable housing. He said that in his district there was a development of 150 units of affordable housing that was all affordable housing. He said that homeless students not only need housing, but also programs to help them transition back from homelessness.

James Quinn said that part of the problem is that from 2011 – 2018 NYC grew by 400,000 people which added to the strain on the city housing supply. He noted that it costs 2x to 3x more to build in NYC than in Philadelphia. Why he asked? Because of taxes and regulation. He said that when you build more housing, the housing prices come down. He cited the current oversupply of housing in LIC as contributing to the decline in prices there. He also said that public housing was built to six and fourteen stories decades ago, and that the air rights to those properties was worth a lot and would enable the city to greatly expand its housing supply.

Donovan Richards said that today permanent affordable housing is a mandatory requirement for all new developments [of a certain size?]. He also said that the Community Land Trust was used in a Rockaway development in his district and may be the first of its kind in NYC.

 

III. Addressing Climate Change in Queens

Danniel Maio said that he would gather data on the subject and map it.

Elizabeth Crowley said that by 2030 Queens could be carbon neutral if we were able to get people to transfer from using cars to using trains. She said we also need to do more to protect our shorefronts, not just in the Rockaways, but in Astoria, LIC and Flushing too. And she noted that ferry service should be expanded to northern Queens.

Costa Constantinides said that he would green roof and solarize buildings across the borough. He would also encourage the public schools to add a program teaching kids about climate change and what they can do about it.

He said he would also invest more in the green space in the borough, as trees help mitigate some of the effects of climate change. He noted that Rikers Island might provide an big opportunity to reduce climate change impacts. I’m not sure exactly what he said about Rikers in conjunction with the existing power infrastructure. Editor’s Note: There are two major power plants in western Queens – the Ravenswood plant just north of Queensbridge Park in LIC and the Con Ed / Astoria Generating plant just north of Astoria Park.

James Quinn said that countries like India and China are the big polluters and he wasn’t sure what we in Queens could – really - do about it. We suggested we could invest in nuclear power, and that while solar is becoming increasingly affordable it’s still expensive. Quinn said we need real action, not chants.

Editor’s Note & Opinion: It’s worth noting that Saudi Arabia, Australia, the U.S. and Canada are the largest carbon emitting nations in the world according to the Union of Concern Scientists USA or ucsusa.org. Also, the U.S. government is subsidizing fossil fuels to the tune of about $200 billion through its military presence by providing free security for U.S. and other western oil companies operating in the Middle East – even though the U.S. is for the most part energy independent. If that money were re-allocated to incentivizing clean energy I think that the cost per unit on solar and other clean energy would drop precipitously. But the large oil companies and the U.S. military contractors have a tight grip on the Senate, House and President, which is why hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars keep flowing to reduce the security costs incurred these privately owned corporate welfare recipients.

Donovan Richards said he chaired the NYC City Council Committee on the Environment. He noted that Sandy took a real toll on the Rockaways and southeast Queens as millions of gallons of water had to be pumped out because southeastern Queens is located on a low water table.

He supports the initiative that requires three story buildings and higher, to have solar. And he noted that 70% of pollution comes from providing energy to buildings. He repeated that he’s was involved in about $2.2 billion and about 55 projects for green / grey infrastructure. Editor’s Note: Unconfirmed but I believe that is federal / state funding for his district in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

Anthony Miranda said that climate change should have already been fixed. He said a lot of people have good ideas that help address the situation immediately, but they’re not given support.


IV. Queens Borough President Hiring Policies

Elizabeth Crowley told us that five different languages are spoken by her small campaign staff, reflecting its diversity. She said that in addition to inclusivity with respect to ethnicity - gender and age should also be factored in.

Costa Constantinides said that he has a couple of people he’s been working with who are also members of the Southeast Asian ethnicities that organized this forum. Editor’s Note: The communities that organized this forum include BAAG, SAAVA, Community 1st, NAVA, MDCNY, Progressive Voices United, Muslims for Progress, One Queens Indivisible and Indivisible Northeast Queens.

He went on to say that the Queens Borough President Office has a staff of about 60 people and that that staff should be representative of Queens.

James Quinn said that ethnic groups change over time. A quarter to half century ago it was the Italians and the Irish. Now it’s different. He said he didn’t believe in bean counting ethnicity. He would hire the best people for the job and who also represent the community. He said that part of the reason for some ethnic groups being underrepresented on the Community Boards is that they don’t participate as much.

Donovan Richards said that his dad was an immigrant who recently became a citizen. He told us that he would make the Queens Borough President Office staff look like the United Nations. He said term limiting members of community boards might be a smooth way to allow wider community participation and access. And that you can’t remove just remove community board members because they’re white as you’d get sued for discrimination.

Anthony Miranda said that the Queens Borough President Office needs to reflect the community. Miranda told us that he’s Hispanic and understands what it’s like to be a minority in an organization [the NYPD where he rose to become a sergeant]. He said that the community boards are staffed by the NYC Councilmembers and the Queens Borough President and that he would negotiate with the NYC Councilmembers to ensure inclusivity.

Danniel Maio said that while Crowley has a staff that speaks five languages, he can speak five by himself. He pledged to appoint at least one Urdu / Arabic speaking persons to the Queens Borough President staff.


V. What would the QBP Candidates do to Address the Recent Hate Crimes Surge?

Costa Constantinides said he would implement bystander training, so that community members could take some sort of mitigating action when a hate crime is in process. He said he would work with the community to prevent crimes, and that we all need to stand together to stop the hate.

James Quinn said that while Assistant District Attorney he prosecuted hate crimes. He said one of the current issues is that the recent reform bill lets accused offenders go without bail even if charged with third degree assault [slapping], stalking or menacing someone. These are no longer bail crimes. He opined that this wasn’t a good thing for the community.

Donovan Richards said that one of the most significant ways to reduce hate crimes is to vote Trump out of office in 2020. He said that Trump has elevated the level of antagonism in the nation. He noted that local law enforcement doesn’t work with ICE.

Richards said that he supported a bill by Levine and Deustch that funds a special task force designed to address hate crimes, and then went on to note that hate crimes apply to a whole wide swath of people including Jews, Muslims, Blacks and others. He said he would also work with public schools to implement a program to take on the issue of tolerance and respect.

Anthony Miranda said that new programs aren’t what’s needed, but rather proper execution of existing programs, policies and procedures. He said he would take a holistic response to addressing hate crimes.

Danniel Maio said that we know the programs, the policies and the police. We even know who the victims generally are. What we don’t understand is who the perpetrators are. We need to reach out to the people associated with hate crimes, try to understand what’s driving their hatred and then defuse it. Help them, not hate them.

Elizabeth Crowley had to leave early.

And then it was time for a series of short yes or no questions, which was to be followed by some attendee questions. Unfortunately I was unable to stay, but this was a good first introduction to most of the candidates running for Queens Borough President.

As stated above, the election is March 24th and I plan to cover at least one or more additional events - as much as needed, that I can resource - to begin to enable all of us to zero in on who is who and what is what, before this important Queens election.


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