By Daniel Arimborgo
City Councilman Sheldon Leffler (D-Hollis) has agreed to withdraw funding for the proposed $500,000 bathroom construction at the McLaughlin Playground at the corner of Francis Lewis Boulevard and McLaughlin Avenue in Holliswood following a public appeal made by Holliswood Civic Association members. The HCA appeal came one day after Community Board 8 approved the bathrooms 27-11 in a full board vote.
“After I met with and spoke to several representatives from both sides, I thought a great deal about this project,” Leffler said in a letter written to CB 8 Jan. 17, the same day he met with the Holliswood residents.
“Projects such as these should be improvements to communities that are looked forward to by those who reside nearby,” he continued in the letter. “They should not be considered negative actions that are forced on substantial segments of the community.”
In an apparent reaction to Leffler's withdrawal of the funds, the board sent a letter to Borough President Claire Shulman the next day, urging her to provide funding for the bathrooms. Sources told the Times/Ledger it was unlikely that Shulman would have the money in her coffers to fund the project this year, however.
Money for projects like the proposed park bathrooms come from the city capital budget. Each councilman gets a certain allocation for projects in his or her area, but the borough president can also fund projects. Leffler is Democratic candidate for the borough presidency.
“It's most unfortunate for the children who use the McLaughlin Playground and the grandparents who take them,” said Jim Gennaro, a Board 8 member who voted for the bathrooms, explaining that children and seniors need to use bathrooms more often than others.
Marc Haken, first vice chairman of CB 8, said that as long as he can remember no city council member had ever gone against a board vote. Haken is also former Youth Services Committee chairman for CB 8.
“There's no question in my mind that the entire consideration was politically motivated and that there were all sorts of political pressures brought to bear on Sheldon by the Holliswood Civic Association and Young Israel of Holliswood,” Haken said. “I personally will look very unfavorably upon his candidacy for borough president. He's totally lost his integrity with me.”
Haken said he believed none of the points raised in Leffler's letter “really address the issues.”
The bathrooms, which were to be made of brick and stone, would have had a baby changing station and been handicapped accessible.
A playground associate who would also have supervised recreation programs was to be stationed in the park to maintain the facility during certain hours. The facility would have been locked at all other times.
Holliswood residents feared the bathrooms would attract unsavory elements, such as pedophiles, drug users and the homeless.
“I have to give him credit. He's going to take flak for it,” said Claire Fallon, a Holliswood Civic Association member and outspoken bathroom opponent said of Leffler.
“It shows democracy does work. When the people want something, their elected officials sometimes do listen.”