By Bianca Fortis
The two candidates who are running to represent many of the neighborhoods battered last year by Hurricane Sandy have different perceptions of the recovery process during the last year.
While Democrat Lew Simon said recovery is moving “at a snail’s pace,” the incumbent in the race, City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), remains more optimistic.
The winner will represent District 32, which includes Belle Harbor, Breezy Point, Broad Channel, Hamilton Beach, Howard Beach, Lindenwood, Neponsit, Ozone Park, Rockaway Beach, Rockaway Park, South Ozone Park, South Richmond Hill and Woodhaven.
Simon, a native of Rockaway Park and former private school teacher, described a lack of communication between individual agencies that has further slowed the recovery process.
“I want to be the Henry Kissinger and bring the peace and bring everyone into one room,” he said.
He said the city is not prepared to handle another storm. Sandy victims continue to suffer from respiratory infections — known as the “Rockaway cough” — that developed after the storm, according to Simon. There are important flood mitigations, including flood gates and sea walls, Simon said.
Ulrich, however, said he believes the city is better prepared than ever for the next natural disaster.
“My constituents have made a remarkable amount of recovery and in one year we have seen so many businesses reopened and homes started to be rebuilt,” he said. “I feel very optimistic about the future of the neighborhoods I represent. My constituents are resilient.”
The councilman acknowledged that there were ways in which city agencies could have handled recovery better, but said otherwise the city had a strong response.
“No one expected a storm of biblical proportions to hit such a densely populated area,” Ulrich said. “That doesn’t mean there isn’t more work to be done — there is an incredible amount of work to do. And I want to be at the helm, helping get the resources and services through to the city until it is fully restored.”
Simon said his other priorities are keeping Queens hospitals open, increasing transportation options in the district, including making the Rockaway ferry permanent, and passing legislation against the illegal conversion of houses.
Simon said he would emphasize personal relationships should he be elected.
“When somebody calls me, I respond personally,” he said. “There is no issue too big or too rough. I try to be extremely honest and say ‘yes,’ ‘no’ or ‘Let me look into it.’”
Aside from Sandy recovery, Ulrich also mentioned transportation and keeping the Rockaway ferry as well as creating jobs outside Manhattan.
If the city leaders and residents are open to new ideas and trying different solutions to problems, things will only get better, he said.
“I love my job, I love what I do,” Ulrich said. “I know that the decisions that I make have an impact on people’s lives. If I can make a difference in just one person’s life each day, that is enough for me. That’s all I ever set out to do.”
Reach reporter Bianca Fortis by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4546.