Take Questions On Economy, Railway, More
Two days after participating in a debate in Middle Village, State Sen. Joseph Addabbo and City Council Member Eric Ulrich went at it again in Woodhaven at a town hall forum during the Saturday, Oct. 20 meeting of the Woodhaven Residents Block Association (WRBA) at the Richmond Hill Volunteer Ambulance Corps.
The two lawmakers gave opening statements, then took questions from the crowd.
“This is a very important election, for many reasons,” Ulrich told the crowd in his opening statement, noting that when it comes to local issues, city and state legislators have “the ability to help you probably much quicker than the President of the United States can.”
He then touched on several of those local issues, such as conditions on Jamaica Avenue, which he called “the main thoroughfare of the community.”
“I have a very rewarding job, to wake up every day and know that I can help others,” he stated.
“What do people want? Number one, they want jobs,” he stated, pointing to the fight against cuts in education, libraries and public transit.
Second on his list was taxes; Ulrich pitched tax relief for residents. Third was crime, with Ulrich stated that he supported the city’s controversial stop-and-frisk program.
“We cannot go back to the days where cars were broken into,” he stated.
“This campaign really is about experience,” Addabbo stated in his opening. “It’s about the experience of working up in Albany, it’s the experience of working here in the community.”
He listed some of his accomplishments during his time in the state Senate, such as helping to cut state spending by $6 billion while retaining essential services.
He claimed to have saved Title XX money for senior centers and secured funding for veterans’ programs and area schools such as P.S. 60.
He also is pushing legislation that would offer tax breaks for businesses such as the ones that reside along Ja- maica Avenue, as well as a bill that would create a one-year moratorium on foreclosures.
The first resident, from the WRBA’s Arlene Annunziata, dealt with Resorts World New York in South Ozone Park. She claimed that revenues from the “racino” are supposed to go to local schools yet the schools’ budgets are being cut.
“I have been, to be quite honest with you, somewhat critical of resorts World,” Ulrich stated, noting that only 60 percent of local residents were hired for positions, “well below what they originally promised.”
Turning to the education funds, he noted that the money is often taken out of the education budget to balance other parts of the state budget.
“My job is not to defend the casino or to be a spokesperson for Resorts World; it’s supposed to stand up for my community, to hold their feet to the fire.”
“I’m actually quite proud of the world we’ve done at Resorts World,” stated Addabbo, noting that a developer could have built “the worst thing in the world” on the property.
“There’s 1,100 jobs there. That’s 1,100 jobs we’ve never had,” he noted, adding that there are “thousands of jobs yet to come.”
“I will be holding their feet to the fire” on hiring locally, he added.
Turning to education funding, he noted that the money comes from the state to the city Department of Education, and the city then decides how the money is spent.
The next question dealt with funding for senior centers. Addabbo, who sits on the Aging Committee explained that at the state level, money comes from programs such as Title XX, EPIC and the STAR exemption for heating costs.
“As a city resident, you’ve never lost the STAR exemption,” he noted.
“To put an exact number on it is very difficult,” Ulrich noted, as funding for local centers is a mixture of federal, state and city funding for everything from caseworkers to senior meal programs.
WRBA Second Vice President Alex Blenkinsopp confronted both Addabbo and Ulrich on the amount of negative mailings and flyers being sent through the mail to area voters.
“If I relied only on the mail I was receiveing, I think that both of you were total sleazebags,” he told the pols. “I know that’s not accurate.”
“Why don’t you guys come together to come up with a creative solution to stop this?” Blenkinsopp asked the two lawmakers.
“This is an issue where Joe and I agree,” said Ulrich, noting that many of the mailings come from outside interests over which the lawmakers have no control. “The day I see this mail is the day it hits the mailbox.”
“Unfortunately we are not able to legally coordinate with any other outside group or campaign to stay ‘stop it,'” he stated. “I’m denouncing these. I want them to stop.”
“I agree,” said Addabbo, noting that this state senate race is one of the most expensive state legislature races in the nation. “I’d like to do something about it.”
Addabbo is pushing four bills dealing with campaign finance reform that would limit “spending on junk.”
“The mailers aren’t going to stop; I apologize. The phone calls aren’t going to stop; I apologize,” he told residents.
When asked about the Queensway/railway debate, both lawmakers stated their agreement with the WRBA’s position.
“I don’t think it’s feasible,” said Ulrich, referring to the rail line. Noting that funding to reactivate the line is not available, he urged supporters “to show me the money.”
As for the parkway, he noted that the High Line in Manhattan raised $50 million in private funds, and expressed doubts that similar funds could be raised in Queens.
“There is no possible, conceivable way for the MTA to open up this, because they don’t have money,” Addabbo stated, adding that many residents bought homes along the rail line with the expectation that it would never be reactivated.
“I think we’re millions of dollars away” from considering a railway, he added.
In his communications report, Blenkinsopp stated that the Queens Civic Congress (QCC) has proposed a redistricting plan that would split Woodhaven into three City Council districts.
“I didn’t know it but apparently I live in a neighborhood called Woodhaven North, and everyone else who lives south of Jamaica Avenue lives in a different neighborhood called Woodhaven,” he stated. “I don’t know where they got this idea but it would have been nice if they reached out to us and attended a town hall.
Currently, the area is split between two Council Districts: the 30th (represented by Elizabeth Crowley) and 32nd (represented by Ulrich). The City Redistricting Commission’s preliminary maps, on the other hand, has 98 percent of the neighborhood in one district.
“We believe that this is a good proposal,” he stated.
The WRBA is not a member of the QCC, but the organization has been invited to appear at a future civic meeting.
P.O. Jose Severino of the 102nd Precinct Community Affairs Unit announced that the precinct has a new commanding officer: Capt. Henry Sautner, who formerly oversaw Transit District 33.
As the district’s commander, Sautner led crime-fighting efforts on the A/C, J/M/Z and L train lines in Queens and Brooklyn.
Severino also heard noise complaints from several residents, including one who said she called police after a birthday party on Sept. 29 went well into the evening hours.
WRBA President Ed Wendell asked the officer about the presence of a group of homeless “nomads” from the midwestern U.S. who were passing through the area. Severino noted that the group was headed south to Philadelphia; he claimed that officers gave them MetroCards to facilitate their travel out of Queens.
Several residents also noted the presence of beggars along Woodhaven Boulevard and Jamaica Avenue, as well as on 96th Street. Severino said he would tell the Conditions Unit.
“If they’re aggressively following you and making you feel uncomfortable, that’s illegal,” he noted.
Severino noted that he also had arrested about 10 residents at 92nd Street and Jamaica Avenue for narcotics related crimes.
“We’re trying to clean the streets up; a few of you have complained about that,” he said. “We’re trying to take it further.”
One resident followed up by asking the 102nd Precinct to combat truants congregating on 76th Street.
“It’s a hangout spot; we’re aware of it,” he noted.
In a related story, Blenkinsopp announced that a foreclosed-upon house on 90th Street that has been a home for vagrants has been re-sealed.
After the debate, Assemblyman Mike Miller would also agree with the WRBA’s position, but suggested a partial reactivation of the rail line from Rockaway Boulevard up to Atlantic Avenue, where it could connect with the Long Island Rail Road.
He added that he is pushing a bill that would make a lien holder responsible if a foreclosed home is being illegally occupied.
A brief video tribute was played in honor of WRBA member Joe Virgona, who died last month. Wendell called him “a longtime friend of Woodhaven.”
The WRBA will next meet on Saturday, Nov. 17, 1 p.m., at the Woodhaven Richmond Hill Volunteer Ambulance Corps at 78-15 Jamaica Ave.