By Joe Anuta
Mayoral hopeful Anthony Weiner is running a campaign of ideas, including mass transit fixes for Queens, and is soldiering through the primary despite the political fallout from his sexting scandal.
The former Queens congressman paints himself as the only candidate talking earnestly about solutions to some of the city’s ills, which he has outlined in two booklets released on the campaign trail. He offered his vision for Queens and the city during a sitdown interview this week with TimesLedger Newspapers.
“For me, it is a question of what you believe in,” he said. “I desperately believe in these things and have fought for them my entire life, my entire career.”
Weiner does not support restoring service to the rusting track of the former Rockaway Branch of the Long Island Rail Road due to the cost of fixing the decrepit rails and right-of-way issues. Instead, he would like a linear park built there, known as the QueensWay, and see another set of rails added to the A train leading to the Rockaways to allow for express service for residents on the far-flung peninsula.
The post-Sandy Rockaway ferry service, which has been extended through January, could also provide relief to more commuters, he said, whether the option is profitable or not.
“Every public transportation system in the world is subsidized to some degree,” he said. “I don’t think the citizens should feel guilty for asking for subsidized service.”
Several large-scale development projects proposed in concert with the Bloomberg administration have been slated for Queens recently, and although Weiner supports some of them, he would rather focus on building communities organically.
Major League Soccer had been pushing for a stadium in Flushing Meadows Corona Park earlier this year, and the mayoral hopeful said the proposed development would not be entirely off the table as long as there were tangible benefits to the community.
But Weiner is not a fan of how the administration has handled the $3 billion Willets Point redevelopment project, saying the housing should be built first and the workers at the junkyards and auto shops should be treated with more respect.
“I do believe we need a place where junk cars go to get fixed. We can’t just be a city of gleaming hotels,” he said.
To address the constant closing of hospitals in Queens, Weiner proposes to institute a single-payer system like Medicare in New York City in order to rein in costs.
“We’re cannibalizing the rarest of New York City industries,” he said, citing the health care field as an economic engine offering jobs from janitorial staff up to neurosurgeon that the city should be more involved in propping up. The city Economic Development Corp., for example, should be working to stop hospital closures like the recent demise of Holliswood Hospital, he said.
Queens is dotted with middle-class co-op housing that was developed under a 1955 initiative called the Mitchell-Lama program, and Weiner would like to see a return to this concept.
By offering developers cheaper capital financing and possibly tax breaks through the city, the next mayor could convince real estate players to construct housing that would be neither luxury nor affordable but somewhere in-between.
But for all of Weiner’s ideas, he has taken a hit in the polls after a second round of revelations he sexted with a young Ohio woman after resigning from office in 2011.
In late July, he was briefly the frontrunner but has hovered around fourth in more recent litmus tests.
“It’s been problematic. Obviously, you don’t want to have scandals,” he said. “You probably know more things about my private life than any other candidate, maybe in American history, which I regret because they are embarrassing.”
Weiner said one regret he has is not laying out a clearer timeline of what he called his recovery, although he questioned how much of a difference it would have made.
In the end, he wants to leave it up to New Yorkers to decide whether the scandal is enough to keep him from office.
“If I didn’t run, you wouldn’t have a choice,” he said.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4566.