By Dustin Brown
Community Board 2 unanimously elected Joseph Conley to serve as vice chairman last Thursday in response to the borough president's request that the longtime leader temporarily step down as chairman, a post the board awarded to former vice chair Stephen Cooper.
The election went off with little discussion and none of the heated debate that dominated the board's previous two meetings, when board members voiced outrage that Conley had been forced to resign due to a political conflict with City Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Woodside).
In his first chairman's report, Cooper made it clear that the reversal of their positions would only be temporary.
“Don't expect me to be Joe Conley, because there is only one Joe Conley,” Cooper said. “This is a switch of roles for a short period of time.”
Borough President Helen Marshall had asked Conley to give up his position two months ago because she believed tensions between him and Gioia – to whom he lost in the 2001 Democratic primary for City Council – were interfering with the board's business.
Marshall defended her position during an appearance at the board's May meeting, where she insisted that a cooling-off period was necessary to give Conley and Gioia an opportunity to open a dialogue. The two put a symbolic end to their feud that night by shaking hands and pledging to cooperate, after having engaged in virtually no direct communication since Gioia took office January 2002.
Conley, who has led the board for 11 years, and who recently announced that he does not intend to vie for Gioia's Council seat this year, will be eligible to run for the chairmanship in November.
The board had voted last month to put off the election for chairman and vice-chairman until the June meeting in the hopes that Marshall would reconsider and allow Conley to hold onto his post.
But Conley distributed a letter to board members at last Thursday's session announcing that Marshall had not changed her mind and urging the board not to dispute her decision – or his decision to comply with it.
“Tonight we should and must move on,” he wrote. “I fully support Steve Cooper as chair and I hope that you will support Steve, as well.”
In his letter, Conley described his decision to step down as a difficult one.
“I agreed to step down for one reason and one reason only, and that was out of respect to the borough president,” Conley wrote. “I was forced to make the choice of not being reappointed to the board or stepping down as chair. I chose to stay on as a member of the board.”
In the same meeting the board voted unanimously not to recommend the approval of a Police Department application to lease a warehouse at 49-49 30th St. in Long Island City for use as a barrier shop – where the city would store and prepare barriers used for large events such as parades.
Board members complained that the board is forced to accommodate more than its fair share of facilities for governmental agencies.
“How much more are we supposed to take on in this community, and how many more agencies can we have in?” Conley asked, explaining the board's stance that it already bears more than its fair share of government facilities.
The board covers the communities of Long Island City, Sunnyside, Woodside and parts of Maspeth, a region that boasts a central location, easy access to Manhattan and a large swath of industrial space that many agencies find attractive.
Representatives of the Police Department said the facility would bring new vitality to a building that has sat vacant for more than two years.
But board members complained that the landlord has allowed the property to fall into disrepair and has maintained an illegal billboard on an adjacent site.
They also expressed concerns that the new employees would only add to the existing problem of insufficient parking in the industrial area, although the police representatives said parking would be available on-site for at least 12 vehicles.
The application will go before the borough president for her recommendation prior to the city Board of Standards and Appeals making a final ruling.
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.