By Bill Parry
Joe Conley’s sudden decision to step down last week as chairman of Community Board 2 after 23 years has set off a debate on the timing of the vote to name his successor.
Board members were told of his move in an e-mail just two days before he resigned at the Dec. 4 monthly meeting where the annual elections were then held. Many present suggested a one-month delay was in order.
“Why wait? The outcome wouldn’t have been any different had we waited an extra month,” he said. “I asked the board for nominations and none were forthcoming, so why put it off?”
CB2’s second vice chairman, Patrick O’Brien, won the vote by a slim margin that some thought lacked transparency.
“I was disappointed in the process because it’s such a big job,” CB 2 member Sheila Lewandowski said. “I had zero interest in that job and the truth is Patrick would have probably won anyway, but what about his seat on the executive board? Open seats don’t come around very often and everyone should’ve been given the time to think about running. We had the opportunity to thoughtfully include everyone and we didn’t take advantage of it.”
Doreen Dwyer, a 62-year resident of Long Island City and longtime CB2 supporter, said, “I thought it was disgusting. How do you turn the board over with just two days’ notice?”
Dwyer, whose mother served on CB 2 “for many years” had her suspicions.
“He must have known someone was going to run that he didn’t want to see take over, that’s why he rushed the vote,” she said.
Conley said that was not the case and that he had no hidden agenda.
“A lot of people who are saying negative things are misinformed,” he said. “They say we haven’t held elections in 20 years — that’s ridiculous, we hold them every year and I say every year if someone else wanted to do the job so be it.”
He added that he would remain as a member of the board and help O’Brien during the transition.
The controversy marred what was an otherwise memorable night.
At the end of his speech, Conley told the larger-than-usual crowd at Sunnyside Community Services that he reached the decision to step down after looking at his record of service. “Looking at the time served, 23 years as chair has been a good run, but it’s time,” he said. “We collectively accomplished a lot of great things.”
Conley shepherded CB 2, which covers Long Island City, Sunnyside, Woodside and parts of Maspeth, through a period of unprecedented growth in western Queens. His leadership is credited with helping the transformation of Long Island City from a gritty industrial neighborhood to the so-called “gateway to Queens” with its booming residential high-rise developments.
“His steady hand has helped guide the growth of New York City’s fastest growing and most dynamic communities,” Borough President Melinda Katz said. “On behalf of the 2.3 million residents of the borough of Queens, I thank Joe for his many years of service on behalf of the common good.”
Conley worked closely with City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), although the two are on opposite sides of the proposed decking of the Sunnyside railyards, a plan put forth repeatedly by Dan Doctoroff, a former deputy mayor in the Bloomberg administration. Conley backs the decking project saying, “If it were to support the creation of affordable housing, public schools and more commercial space that would create jobs, not a convention center, that’s too big in scale.”
Van Bramer called the issue an “age-old discussion,” saying such large-scale development would adversely affect the communities he serves: Long Island City, Astoria, Dutch Kills and Sunnyside. He said such a project would overburden the area’s infrastructure and transportation systems.
The difference of opinion between the two did not keep the councilman from heaping praise on the outgoing chairman.
“Joe worked hard at his job — serving under many different administrations. And he worked well with all of them,” Van Bramer said. “Joe cared about doing his job well. That is why he did well. I enjoyed working with him and wish him nothing but the best.”
At the end of his emotional farewell speech, Conley, 67, said, “I have made lifelong friends in this room, people that shared my life.”
He choked back tears as the crowd rose to its feet in a standing ovation.
“That was very humbling,” he said. “People put a lot of trust in me over the years, but I thought it was time to do something else with my life.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (718) 260–4538.