By Bill Parry
A fight for jobs turned physical for a community leader from Long Island City.
Bishop Mitchell Taylor, co-founder of Urban Upbound, says he made a mistake by going to the Howard Johnson-Mayflower Hotel, which is opening soon at 38-61 12th St., to confront owner Xiao Zhuang Ge over hiring workers from Queensbridge Houses.
At a press conference last Friday outside the hotel, Taylor said, “I apologize for that kind of aggression and incident, but I don’t apologize for standing up for my community and standing up for those people, those qualified people who need jobs.”
Taylor has spent the last 30 years connecting local talent with businesses while Urban Upbound is a nonprofit whose mission is to expand economic opportunities for residents of public housing and other low-income New Yorkers.
Taylor thought he had a verbal agreement with the owner for 36 jobs for Queensbridge residents but had not heard anything from the hotel’s management since July 23. With the opening day imminent, he went looking for answers Aug. 8.
Footage from the hotel’s security cameras show what happened next at the building site right next to Queensbridge.
Taylor angrily confronted the owner in the lobby and when several workers intervened, Taylor shoved one of them — Qijun Zhu — into a window. Police say the worker had lacerations on his left arm and a contusion on the back of his head, but refused medical attention.
The altercation spilled out into a parking lot in front of the hotel, where several workers chased Taylor. When one of them kicked at Taylor, he grabbed a pickax and started swinging it.
“He used it like a piece of wood, just to defend himself,” one source said. “If he wanted to injure the workers, he wouldn’t have been holding it upside down.”
Both Taylor and Zhu filed complaints at the 114th Precinct. A representative from the Queens district attorney’s office said, “We are aware of the matter, but at this point it is a police matter.”
The NYPD said the verbal dispute escalated when Taylor threatened to kill the owner. There have been no arrests and the investigation continues.
In a statement, Taylor said, “I’ve been in Queensbridge virtually all my life, serving our community for over 30 years. This is about jobs and has been since day one. All I asked from the hotel is that our neighbors be given a fair chance to apply for the job openings this new business brings.
“I offered Urban Upbound, a free service, as a resource that connects qualified workers with businesses. This is a standard process used across the city. The primary issue at hand is that our community has a skilled and dedicated workforce who should not be overlooked in the hiring practices of this hotel, especially when unemployment in our area is almost 17 percent.”
George Fragoulis, the hotel’s operations manager saw things differently.
“This guy just stepped on a land mine,” he said. “He’s a 20th century version of Jimmy Hoffa. This type of thing went out in the ’70s with coercion, threats and intimidation. I know I’m right, having been around law enforcement long enough. You don’t use thuggery around me.”
Fragoulis was an aide to Mayor Rudy Giuliani and served as his representative in Queens before becoming the operations commissioner at the city Department of Buildings.
“I’ve seen this kind of thing before,” Fragoulis said. “He gets his people jobs, but then takes 30 percent of their salary for Urban Inbound, or whatever his organization is called. Besides, we already gave him money and we hired seven of his people.”
April Simpson, president of the Queensbridge Tenants Association, was at the July 23 meeting and said money was never discussed.
“Heck no, absolutely not. Not one time was money discussed. Bishop Taylor taking money out of his own people’s paychecks? That’s absurd,” she said. “He’s a walking angel and I’ve known him almost all my life. He would never take advantage of his own people, and for these hotel people to make that accusation is frightening.”
Urban Upbound received a check in the amount of $2,500 from the hotel owner, but it was in the form of a donation for the organization’s annual gala.
As for the Fragoulis’ claim that the hotel hired seven Queensbridge residents, Urban Upbound representative Kamian Allen said, “All Bishop Taylor is asking from the hotel is a fair chance for the Queensbridge community to apply for job openings. Friday was the first we’d heard of the hotel hiring seven locals. If that’s true, we’re thrilled.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718.260.4538.