Eric Gioia, Anti-Graffiti Warrior – QNS.com

Eric Gioia, Anti-Graffiti Warrior

As a life-long resident of northwest Queens, Councilman Eric Gioia is all too familiar with the rash of graffiti vandalism on the streets of his neighborhood.
"Growing up, I remember seeing my dad out there, painting over the graffiti on our storefront," he said, describing his family-owned florist on Roosevelt Avenue.
These memories have, in part, sparked his multi-pronged attack on graffiti, which began when he took office two years ago.
The councilman has dedicated a significant amount of time to the anti-graffiti battle, sponsoring and creating legislation, securing funds for community clean-ups, initiating investigations, and speaking at dozens of local schools.
His district encompasses Long Island City, Woodside and Sunnyside three neighborhoods that serve as a "gateway to Queens" because of their proximity to the Queensboro bridge.
Gioia fears that excessive vandalism so close to that gateway will inevitably color outsiders impressions of the borough. "It makes people want to hit the gas and go straight to the Hamptons," he said. "I really do feel strongly that nothing makes a good neighborhood look bad like graffiti."
On the legislative front, the councilman has been able to use his position at the head of the Oversight and Investigations Committee to push for stronger penalties against vandals and the merchants who illegally supply children under the age of 18 with graffiti paraphernalia, such as spray paint and broad-tipped markers.
After an October report undertaken by the committee showed that 50% of surveyed stores throughout the city sold spray paint to minors, Gioia, along with Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., introduced legislation increasing penalties for anyone previously convicted of graffiti offenses, both vandals and merchants.
He also sponsored legislation that regulates the use, sale and display of acid etching cream, a substance that can permanently damage buildings. Councilwoman Gale Brewer introduced the bill after vandals defaced her Manhattan office with the cream.
But Gioias most visible successes have been on the homefront, where local community groups in his district have undertaken a series of ambitious graffiti clean-ups.
Shortly after taking office, Gioia worked with community activist Lew Story to create the Sunnyside United Neighborhood Network (SUNN) profiled last week by the Queens Courier securing a grant and a robust "power-washing" graffiti cleaner for the group.
"Hes been here for each clean-up, lending his influence," said Reverend Douglas Estella of the Sunnyside Reform Church. And the results have been impressive, he continued. "Ive seen the before and after, and [graffiti] was getting to be an insidious problem. Some major eyesores have been removed."
Gioia has also addressed more than 5,000 local students over the last year about the graffiti problem.
"I ask them, what would you do if someone came into your home and wrote all over the walls?" He tries to convince the students that they should respect their neighborhoods, just as they respect their homes.
And he tries to provide the "artistic impulses" of some young people with a safer outlet, promoting extracurricular activities and visits to the P.S. 1 arts center and MoMA.
So whats next for the graffiti warrior? "Its a continuous battle, and you can never give up," he said. "But if you look from Skillman Avenue to Roosevelt Avenue, the improvement is incredible. Were going to keep up the fight."

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