“I’m standing over a smelly sewer!” she cried as she stood at the corner of Main Street and 40th Road. “This is why people are complaining. No…
By Alexander Dworkowitz
Queens Borough President Claire Shulman came to downtown Flushing Thursday, and she did not like what she saw.
“I’m standing over a smelly sewer!” she cried as she stood at the corner of Main Street and 40th Road. “This is why people are complaining. No one obeys the law here!”
In light of all the complaints that her office has received recently about the state of downtown Flushing, Shulman decided to take a look at the area herself.
Like Moses parting the Red Sea, Shulman scattered the Flushing street vendors, some of whom literally picked up their business and hurried off as she approached with her entourage. Shulman was surrounded by her staff, police officers, sanitation and consumer affairs officials as well as Flushing civic and business leaders.
Shulman passed by several sights which drew her attention, including fruit stands on narrow sidewalks, stacks of newspapers piled by a subway entrance, a crowded restaurant with only wooden benches and an automatic sprinkler that had been ripped from its water supply.
Officials promised Shulman that summonses would be issued to businesses who were shown to be in violation of the law.
Charles Hutchernson, city inspector with the Department of Consumer Affairs, said his agency would review which stands were legal as he noted the fruit stands on the narrow sidewalks of 40th Road. “The primary concern is pedestrian safety.”
The crowds, vendors and smell of downtown Flushing has become a primary issue for the candidates for Julia Harrison’s (D-Flushing) city council seat. Democrat John Liu, Republican Ryan Walsh, Independent Martha Flores-Vazquez and Green Paul Graziano have all said they would work to clean up downtown if elected.
But according to Shulman, who is leaving office because of term limits, the winner should not look to solve the problem by trying to change the laws.
“It’s a question of enforcement,” said Shulman, who said she thought the laws governing downtown Flushing were sufficient.
John Kelly, chief of the city Sanitation Department, agreed. “We need constant enforcement of the laws,” he said. “Summonses don’t always do the job. We need to confiscate stands.”
Fred Fu, president of the Flushing Chinese Business Association, accompanied Shulman on her tour.
“She found things that everybody knows about,” he said.
Fu thought the solution was simple.
“I suggested to the police officers to use their auxiliaries. It’s easy. There will be no vendors.”
Despite her dismay, Shulman said she saw improvements in the downtown area. She said some potholes had been filled, and some restaurants had stopped dumping grease into the sewers.
“We worked out something with regard to the grease,” she said. “Apparently people are paying attention to that, except for two restaurants. I bet if the Health Department went to those restaurants, they’d be shut down.”
Shulman also said that overall she was happy with downtown Flushing.
“In spite of the violations, the street looks a lot better than last time,” she said. “Flushing is flourishing. Business here is very good. But we have to make the quality of life better, which is why we’re here.”
Many restaurants learned that Shulman was coming in advance and cleaned their sidewalks before her arrival. Most of the vendors that usually line Main Street had also disappeared.
When Shulman came across one of the vendors on Roosevelt Avenue, he quickly packed up his cart and walked off, speaking to the crowd in Chinese.
“He said he’s here because you came late,” said Fu, translating for the vendor. Shulman did not visit Roosevelt Avenue until 2:40 p.m., although she began her tour at 2 p.m.
Shulman promised to make a return trip.
“I’m coming back next week,” she said. “Somebody told them we were coming.”
Reach Reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300 Ext. 141.