By Phil Corso
When discussing his decision to enter a crowded Democratic primary race and challenge City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), Flushing’s Paul Graziano did not hesitate to emphasize his focus on fighting over-development in northeast Queens.
For nearly two decades, the urban planning consultant has kept a close watch on the borough’s historic buildings and landmarks and has become a known name in the civic association community because of it. In an interview with TimesLedger Newspapers, the borough activist said he hoped to address quality-of- life issues in northeast Queens by taking a look at zoning laws and considering designating historic districts.
“I believe in property rights, but we need to save the things that are important to us,” Graziano said. “There has to be a balance. It is outrageous that we have had to fight tooth and nail for our districts.”
After attending college at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Graziano returned home to Flushing to realize new concerns over his hometown’s future landscape. With his interest piqued, he then went on to educate himself on zoning law as well as the civic community, earned a masters of science in urban affairs and planning from Hunter College and helped form the North Flushing Civic Association.
Graziano spent the better part of the last 20 years working in various civics throughout northeast Queens and even teamed up with state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) as a land use and planning consultant in his earlier days as a councilman to help draft a zoning study of the 19th Council District , where he is now running. The redrawn district now includes Little Neck, Bayside, Douglaston, North Flushing, Whitestone, Auburndale and College Point.
That study eventually went on to ensure that any new development in northeast Queens would remain respectful, or in-context, to the surrounding community, Graziano said.
“It was a huge change. Now, areas have stabilized dramatically,” Graziano said. “This still allows for development, but creates a more predictable outcome. It is about saving neighborhoods that deserve to be saved.”
In 2001, Graziano ran on the Green Party line for the 20th Council District, a seat that eventually went to now-city Comptroller John Liu. But in 2009, the Flushing activist said he changed his political designation to Democrat so he could vote for Avella in a 2009 primary for mayor. He said his shift in party affiliation only underscored what he referred to as independent and complex political ideologies.
“I’m different. My background is in civics and my work has been with civics,” Graziano said. “I have no problem with being political, but I am not a politician. I am an independent person.”
Graziano said he was unhappy with the way Halloran had represented northeast Queens since his election in 2009, and he would be initiating an independent campaign, free of political commitments or special interests, to get the resources his communities need.
In other issues, Graziano said he also supported increasing the minimum wage to match with inflation, but was against charter schools and stop-and-frisk. Instead, he proposed increased patrols, which could be funded by budget reallocation.
If elected, Graziano said he was interested in chairing various committees in the Council, including Land Use, Education, Parks and Finance. He will face off in a September primary against several other Democrats who have begun campaigning for the seat, including Democratic state committeeman Matthew Silverstein, former state Assemblyman John Duane, attorney Paul Vallone and Austin Shafran, of the state’s economic development agency Empire State Development.
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.