By Joe Anuta
The candidates for borough president outlined some of their goals at a forum last week sponsored by the Queens Chamber of Commerce, but it was difficult to gauge the differences in their platforms.
For the most part, each candidate was asked a different question throughout the breakfast event last Friday at St. John’s University, near the corner of Union Turnpike and Utopia Parkway, giving the audience feedback on a wide range of issues affecting Queens, but offering little chance for comparison.
The six hopefuls at the forum — state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), Director of Community Boards Barry Grodenchik, former state Assemblywoman Melinda Katz, Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) and Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) — are all vying to replace Borough President Helen Marshall.
Some candidates have also been courting the endorsement of the Queens Democratic Party, which may make an endorsement before petitioning begins in June, according to several political sources. Petitioning is the process of gathering signatures to get onto the ballot for the Democratic primary.
Avella left the forum early to host a news conference where he shredded his state-issued parking placard. Before he left, however, he explained to the audience that Queens does not get its fair share of city services and that the borough could use a visionary.
“One of the things we don’t do in this city, and that includes the borough, is planning,” Avella said, indicating he would call on residents and local stakeholders to create a road map of how the borough should develop.
Comrie discussed development issues as well, saying a convention center could be built at Aqueduct Racino or at Sunnyside Yards and a smaller soccer stadium could be a good addition in Idlewild Park or Maspeth.
“We need to site a full-service convention center, and Queens could support a soccer stadium,” he said. “But not the one they want to talk about in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.”
Grodenchik talked about the importance of the borough’s airports as economic engines and, when asked a question about tourism, he said it is an uphill battle for Queens since most visitors come to New York to see Manhattan.
“But I also think the goal in tourism for this county is the jobs,” he said, adding that the borough’s growing hotel industry and unionized jobs here and around the city could boost residents’ quality of life.
Katz discussed the differences between development and overdevelopment and said the limited nature of Queens transportation, for example far fewer subway routes than Brooklyn and Manhattan, needed to be addressed in order to grow the borough economically.
“You can create hundreds of retail jobs, but if people can’t get there to buy your product and you can’t run a business, then it is an irrelevant application,” she said.
Peralta repeatedly said he wanted to make Queens a destination and stressed the importance of affordable housing. The senator said he will not support the Willets Point redevelopment project until affordable housing is made a key priority as it was in 2008, he said.
“I have a lot of questions and a lot of concerns,” he said.
Vallone said he is in support of the United States Tennis Center expanding its leased 0.68 acres in Flushing Meadows and in support of the Willets Point redevelopment, provided it is done fairly, but is against a 13-acre soccer stadium also proposed for the green space.
“There are three projects going on in the park at the same time and there is no central authority out there,” he said.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4566.