Queens Borough President Candidates Forum
Queens Boro President Candidates Discuss the Issues
On Thursday evening I headed down to Jamaica town to watch and listen to four candidates vying for the office of Queens Borough President. The forum was hosted by Chhaya Community Development Corporation in tandem with several other South Asian and Indo-Caribbean community non profits seeking to enable their groups to become better informed regarding the candidates vying for the important office of Queens Borough President. I have included the names of these organizations at the end of this report.
In the photo at right are the Queens Borough President candidates [left to right]: Costa Constantinides, Donovan Richards, Anthony Miranda and Elizabeth Crowley.
Queens Borough President Budget is About $70 Million
The Queens Borough President Office controls a budget of approximately $70 million. The budget is a % allocation of the total revenue taken in by the NYC municipality. The money is used to fund improvements and programs in the parks, schools, libraries, as well as healthcare and cultural institutions. The Queens Borough President also has use of the ‘bully pulpit’ - a phrase coined by President Theodore Roosevelt – meaning that when someone at the bully pulpit talked, people listened / took notice.
It was a sort of balmy early March evening with temperatures near 50 as I rode the subway down to Jamaica town. Riders were a bit on edge, keeping their distance amid fears of contagion from the CoronaVirus. One man held the subway pole with a newspaper, others wore gloves in spite of the unseasonably warm temperatures, and at the end of the ride a subway maintenance man, wearing a surgical mask and gloves, did a bit of cleaning.
- CLICK here to read the rest of our report which includes some video of the Queens Borough President Forum hosted by Chhaya and held at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center.
- Early voting begins Saturday, March 14th and the election is on Tuesday, March 24th, 2020.
Queens Borough President Candidates Forum
Queens Boro President Candidates Discuss the Issues
I arrived a bit late, and found only two of the Queens Borough Presidential candidates were on stage – Donovan Richards and Anthony Miranda. I was a bit disappointed, but not for long, as both Elizabeth Crowley and Costa Constantinides arrived not too long after I did.
The program essentially involved having the candidates answer questions from members of the various south east Asian communities that helped sponsor the event. And their questions were as good as any moderator might come up with. I missed the first few questions, so we're coming in after the program began.
What Will You Do / How Can Community Groups Access Government Funding?
The first question I tuned into was how can community groups access funding from the government to help them with their non-profit programs. Donovan Richards said that due to corruption and graft done in the city historically, the city now requires groups to show that they have other funding for projects first. This is used to essentially carbon date / prove that these groups are bonified non profits / community organizations because of prior abuses where validating a group prior to funding were not in place.
Richards went on to say that the land use efforts in the City Council were one of the best ways to access government help. He cited discounted rental space and other help that could be sought for organizations, as real estate developers, which have funds and generally seek NYC Council help navigating zoning laws, might be open to providing help while negotiating with the NYC Council.
Anthony Miranda said that talk is cheap. Nonetheless he seemed to agree with Richards, that help could be sought from real estate developers for community organizations, as the developers come into a neighborhood. Miranda also noted that Queens residents and small businesses are being squeezed by rents, even as some landlords sit upon vacant buildings.
Miranda said that he would use the Queens Borough Presidents office to provide more transparency to information about what’s doing in neighborhoods as well as to enable / facilitate more community input to new developments / zoning changes. Miranda referenced a bill that has been sitting idle in the NYC Council for nearly 10 years.
Elizabeth Crowley arrived. Instead of answering the question, she started to give a biographical history of herself and her family, in spite of the moderator’s objections.
A Constantinides campaign staff member, Moumita Ahmed, also arrived shortly after Crowley, and sat in for Costa prior to his arrival. Costa’s designee, Moumita, told us that Constantinides wants to create satellite Borough President offices in a number of the Queens neighborhoods in order to keep better tabs on things going on around the borough.
The photo above right was taken at a Chhaya housing workshop in Jackson Heights in 2013.
Queens Healthcare & Medicare for All
Donovan Richards said the Governor Cuomo is looking to make budget cuts to close a $6 billion deficit gap. To do that the Governor is proposing an overhaul of Medicaid [and $2 billion in cuts to NYC]. Richards said he’s fighting for people’s healthcare, but it’s not easy.
Anthony Miranda said he’s for Medicare for all and that he supports Bernie Sanders.
When asked for quick answers – yes or no - if they would support free healthcare for all, Richards and Miranda said yes, and Crowley said no.
Editor’s Note: Voters must not only decide who is proposing the things they favor, but whether the proposals are realistic, and which of the candidates is most likely to be able to actually implement the policies their proposing. As you know, politician’s promises too often aren’t kept, and oftentimes it’s because they’re promising anything and everything they can to get elected, with the hope voters will forget the promises of the last election, when the next election comes around.
The photo at right was taken at Elmhurst Hospital in 2010.
What Will the Candidates do to Help Immigrants?
Constantinides designee said that Jessica Ramos had endorsed Costa and that he was committed to expanding the diversity on Community Boards.
Richards said that he works with people from CUNY to help people onto a path to citizenship. He said that he worked to hold the NYPD accountable with respect to maintaining NYC as a ‘sanctuary city’ where local law enforcement wouldn’t collaborate with ICE [Immigration & Customs Enforcement] to round up local residents and workers. Richards noted that until last year  his father was still not a citizen, so he’s aware of and sensitive to the issues around immigration.
Miranda said that ICE had recently taken a father out of his home and left the man’s young daughter home alone. He said there was a fundraiser for the man’s legal fees, which were estimated at $10,000 and that so far $3,000 had been raised on Kickstarter.
Crowley said in 2011 when she was in the NYC Council she stood up for immigrants as those on Rikers were being deported by the Obama Administration.
What Will You do to Keep ICE out of Queens
Richards said that ICE shouldn’t be operating in the public space in Queens. He suggested he would turn the Helen Marshall Center down at Borough Hall into a sanctuary where he would shield immigrants from deportation.
Miranda continued to talk about the recent ICE raid affecting the father and daughter referenced above which happened in a nearby neighborhood.
Crowley said the diversity in our 66 neighborhoods is our strength.
Constantinides representative said that ICE should be banned from the city [Editor’s Note: ICE is a federal agency – not a municipal one, so any effort in this direction would surely have to go through the courts.]. She said Costa would help immigrants deal with ICE by providing legal guidance and other support via the Queens Borough President satellite offices he is proposing to establish.
Would You Support Giving Municipal Voting Rights to Any Residents Regardless of Citizenship Within 6 Months After Arrival?
Miranda, Richards and Constantinides said yes and Crowley said no.
[Editor’s Note: I had discussed this with fellow residents who didn’t like the idea, commenting that non-citizens aren’t vested in the community, they likely don’t know the issues or candidates, they could sway elections, and they would have less incentive to become citizens].
Is Jackson Heights Over or Under developed?
Richards said that he thought it was under developed, as Queens needs more housing, more schools, and there are still about 60,000 people who remain homeless. But that said, Richards said any new developments would have to be analyzed for feasibility vis a vis infrastructure and done responsibly.
Miranda said a plan for development was needed and agreed with Richards on doing the feasibility and responsibility homework prior to any implementation.
Crowley said Queens needs more housing and that a lot of it would spring up along the Brooklyn / Queens transit line she was proposing.
The photo at right was taken of a real estate development in LIC in 2014.
What is your Favorite Southeast Asian Restaurant in Queens & Favorite SE Asian Dish?
Since I didn’t catch all the particulars of this question I’m going to stay away from specific restaurant and dish names.
Crowley liked an Indian restaurant and their chicken dish. Miranda’s response I didn’t catch. Donovan also chose an Indian restaurant and a roti dish. Costa’s representative mentioned a Nepali restaurant where they had hosted an event.
What would be your Top Project to Fund that is not Now Funded?
Miranda said the same as Crowley.
Costa said that he would fund solar for public schools, both as a carbon emission reduction effort, and to get kids involved in renewable energy at their schools.
I missed Richards response – it may have also been participatory budgeting.
What is your Favorite Park that is Not FMCP?
Costa – Astoria Park as he’s been a life long resident and the park has played a role in his life growing up and now for his son who is growing up.
Donovan Richards – Brookdale Park is his favorite and he says people come from New Jersey to use the park.
Miranda – Fresh Meadows Park, but he also lives near FMCP and gave it a shout out too.
Crowley – Rockaway Beach which is cared for by the Parks Department and Forest Park.
At this point Elizabeth Crowley departed for another event she planned to attend in the Rockaways. She made a closing statement about how she would fight for the people of Queens, but caught me off guard and I didn't record it.
What Will You Do to Expand Community Board Diversity?
Miranda will soon follow her to attend the same event. I’m not sure how he answered this question.
Richards told us that CB 13 is one of the most diverse Community Boards in Queens and the City. He said there’s representation of multiple groups, but not yet Latinos.
Constantinides told us that CB1 in Astoria had the same president for 39 years. Now there is a new president, so things are changing. They’re trying to raise the professionalism of the boards by injecting new blood via new members.
How Many / Any Southeast Languages is Your Campaign Literature in?
Costa said his was in Bangla, Nepali and Chinese.
Richards said he was working on his.
Miranda said his was in five languages – referencing Spanish and English.
Should Public Transit be Free for All?
Richards – It’s easy to say it’s going to be free, but that’s not realistic. Right now the MTA needs more money, not less. The money is needed to shore up the system.
Constantinides – Agrees with Richards that it’s not realistic. Costa says Queens needs to have representation on the MTA Board and the City needs to take back control of the MTA from NY State. [Editor’s Note: NYC lost control of the MTA, when NYS had to bail out NYC from defaulting on its bonds. This was in the 1970’s after President Gerald Ford refused to use the federal government to step in to bail out NYC].
It was at this point that Anthony Miranda gave us a quick speech before he also departed to the Rockaways. I caught his closing speech - see video below.
What Temples have you Visited?
Constantinides said that he has visited a number of mosques and temples and named a couple of them.
The photo at right was taken in 2010 at the Ganesh Hindu Temple in Flushing.
How can the Queens Borough President Help Ethnic Groups Preserve their Culture?
Richards said that the Queens Borough President has about a $70 million budget [Editor’s Note: the budget size will vary with municipal tax receipts]. So there’s money there to help people, but there are also a lot of people who ask for the help.
Constantinides said that there are 60 people working in the Queens Borough Presidents Office at Queens Borough Hall on Queens Blvd in Kew Gardens. Constantinides said he wants the office to be spread out in the borough so that the office can work more closely with the Community Boards.
What can be done to Improve Health of SE Asian Peoples?
A general statement was made that American food isn’t healthy. [Editor's Note: This is generally true because a lot of American food is processed and full of sweeteners, sodium and fat.]
Constantinides said his wife has diabetes so he knew first hand about the consequences of how what we eat impacts a healthy lifestyle. He said that as NYC Councilmember he secured $2.5 million for a local hospital to better accommodate stroke victims. He said education about a healthy lifestyle and preventative care are critical to nurturing a healthy community. And that Medicare for all would also help.
Richards said that access to fresh food is critical and that he had and still is working on an initiative in that regard to expand healthy food choices throughout the community.
What Role does Real Estate Money Play in Your Campaign?
Richards said he’s received donations from over 1,000 people, but that he does take money from developers, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to get what they want from him. See video for full response.
Constantinides told us he had received donations from 1,300 people and they were small donors and that he hadn’t taken any money from developers. [Editor's Note: Costa doesn't take money from large real estate developers, and both he and Crowley have returned money to them. Donovan Richards on the other hand gladly accepts money from real estate developers as he was endorsed by the Queens Democratic Machine and also REBNY the Real Estate Board of NY.]
What Would They do to Protect the Rights of LGBTQ
Both candidates said they were for protecting the rights of LGBTQ.
The New MTA Bus Plan
Richards said it was good that the MTA was reaching out to the community regarding the new bus route plan [he said first time in 40 years], but that it seemed like a Jedi mind trick as the plan fails the sniff test.
Constantinides said that every single NYC Public Housing Project would lose one or more bus routes. He reiterated his desire to get Queens to have representation on the MTA Board so that your voices can be heard. He said that he’s been working with NYS Senator Gianaris and Assemblymember Simotas to pass a bill in the NYS Legislature to that effect.
What about Development of Affordable Housing?
Richards said that most of the rezonings were done a while ago [Editor’s Note: Most rezonings were done during the Bloomberg Administration 2002 - 2014]. So many of the new developments are being erected “as of right” meaning without the developers having to ask for City Council zoning changes. During the de Blasio Administration laws were enacted that require mandatory and inclusionary affordable housing in every new development, but Richards said that while a great improvement, more needs to be done.
Constantinides said that he shepherded housing in Astoria through that offers indexed affordable housing units that range from $0 AMI to $50K AMI. He cited a NY Post report that labeled him a “Greedy Progressive”. [Editor's Note: I looked this up and it was true. The NY Post labeled government officials who negotiate hard on behalf of the public as greedy. That statement is a backhanded compliment to the government official [Costa] who drove the hard bargain, and it tells us that the NY Post is empathetic to the 'victimized' real estate developers.]
As mentioned above, Elizabeth Crowley left first and early, so I missed video recording her closing statement. Anthony Miranda left not long after, but by this time I was ready. And then I recorded the closing statements of both Costa Constantinides and Donovan Richards who were there at the end. See the video below.
SAIC - South Asian & Indo-Caribbean Community Organizations
Chhaya tells us that,
"... The South Asian & Indo-Caribbean groups are one of New York City’s fastest growing immigrant populations, and one that is often marginalized, underserved, and civically and culturally isolated. That is why Chhaya CDC and other SAIC partner organizations including Adhikaar, BACDYS, India Home, Caribbean Equality Project, SABNY, SACSS, and Shetu [organized the forum] ..."
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