By Bob Friedrich
On Dec. 1, the Queens Civic Congress held its 16th annual legislative reception in Douglaston. The QCC, a uniquely Queens institution, is an umbrella organization of more than 100 civic associations. It is an example of productive civic engagement and the adage that “all politics is local.”
The event is an opportunity to bring civic leaders and elected officials together in an informal setting that facilitates discussions about local issues of mutual interest and concern. The results of this collaboration have proven to be impressive over the years.
Following the official business of swearing-in QCC board members, brief comments were made by some of the elected officials. City Comptroller-elect Scott Stringer, a familiar face at this annual gathering, made the rounds to personally thank those who supported him in the recent election. Outgoing Controller John Liu, also in attendance, informed me that he still has one or two audits to release before ending his term. Liu was unwilling to reveal any plans for his next political foray, but insisted he still plans on remaining active.
State Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside), a strong and effective advocate on behalf of the co-op community, discussed his legislative agenda for middle-class co-op owners with some of the borough’s leading co-op advocates.
Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Fresh Meadows) dismissed a call for help by Elaine Young, vice president of the West Cunningham Park Civic Association, to help rid Fresh Meadows of the city Parks Department’s wood-chipping operation in Cunningham Park.
Parks stealthily set up this noisy operation without any community input or notification. Although the physical location of the wood-chipping operation is outside Rozic’s district, the continuous noise has created serious quality-of-life complaints that have resonated throughout the entire community.
“That’s not in my district. Speak to David,” was Rozic’s response to Young, referring to Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck).
This apparent disinterest and lack of leadership by Rozic brought to mind another encounter earlier this year at a civic meeting. The issue then was multiple scandals surrounding former Brooklyn Assemblyman Vito Lopez and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s (D-Manhattan) use of taxpayer funds as hush money to silence victimized women who were sexually harassed by Silver’s own staff.
A number of civic leaders publicly called for Silver’s removal as speaker in the wake of his handling of these scandals. At the time, I asked Rozic if she would join community leaders and call for Silver to step down. While she acknowledged that she herself “fit the profile of these victimized women,” she declined to call for Silver’s ouster as speaker. Unfortunately, being a good Democratic foot soldier has trumped any latent leadership qualities she may have.
On a more positive note, Weprin promised to work with the QCC and continue his long-term battle against the imposition of tolls on the free East River crossings. Weprin led this battle against Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s congestion pricing tax while he was a city councilman. The toll issue threatens to arise once more, as New York City’s insatiable appetite for taxpayer revenue continues unabated.
Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens, currently running for the Council speaker position, was offered the full support of many civic leaders. Having a Queens Council speaker would go a long way toward neutralizing the Manhattan-centric tilt of city government.
U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Melville), whose district runs from the Whitestone Bridge to Smithtown, L.I., was happy to tell me that he has introduced legislation I suggested that would move the celebration of Halloween to the last Saturday in October. By doing so, parents and children could enjoy trick-or-treating in daylight hours without the stress of rushing home only to be caught up in transit delays and missing this annual tradition with their children. Israel is lining up bipartisan support for this proposal.
The grassroots political activism on display here demonstrates a unique aspect of our borough and neighborhoods and is something we can all take great pride in.
Bob Friedrich is president of Glen Oaks Village and a civic leader.