By Joe Anuta
Four candidates for borough president pledged to create more senior centers and advocate for better transportation at a forum in Sunnyside last week.
Sunnyside Community Services hosted the panel, which drew more than 100 spectators and featured Republican business owner Tony Arcabascio, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), former Democratic state Assemblywoman Melinda Katz and City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria).
Avoiding political suicide, each of the candidates railed against cuts to the city Department for the Aging, pledged to fight for the borough’s share of the budgetary pie and vowed to push for expanded services for Queens’ graying population, which according to the event’s emcee, NY1 anchor Rocco Vertuccio, is the fastest growing segment of the city’s population.
Arcabascio lamented the city’s fiscal woes, but said there is only so much money to be squeezed from the budget. The GOPer wants to pump money into senior services by compelling the private sector to chip in.
“One of the things we have to do is to stop relying on the government to always support us,” he said. “We need private-public partnerships.”
Asking utility companies, for example, to contribute to programs for the elderly would take some of the burden off government.
Avella hopes to make centers for the elderly more accessible.
“I personally believe we should have a senior center in every neighborhood,” he said, adding that the borough president should work with other arms of government to create a dedicated source of funding instead of subjecting the cash to whims of the annual budget dance.
During the tenure of former Borough President Claire Shulman, Katz said she was in charge of running a monthly powwow with representatives from major city agencies to discuss ongoing problems, but more work is needed.
“It is not enough,” she said. “If you want to talk about hands-on, the borough president needs to be hands-on. There needs to be meetings for seniors.”
She said she would like to specifically identify areas of Queens where public transportation is not up to snuff.
Vallone said he would create a bureau within the borough president’s office dedicated to addressing concerns of the elderly, but he largely stuck to public safety, telling the crowd he would help keep crime down. He is chairman of the Council Public Safety Committee.
“My top priority is keeping you safe,” he said. “Without safe streets, you can’t get to senior centers, you can’t enjoy your parks.”
Avella and Vallone flung barbs at each other throughout the afternoon.
Vallone said he would “not just have press conferences,” a slight directed at the senator.
Avella reached into the past, when the Democratic trio all served in the Council at the same time, to jab Katz and Vallone for voting to extend term limits, which ushered in another four years of the Bloomberg administration. Avella voted against the extension.
Katz characterized the barb as a distraction, saying the race was not about term limits.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.