District 23 candidates focus on public safety and transit at Courier debate

THE COURIER/Photo by Julie Weissman

The two candidates seeking to fill the vacant 23rd City Council District seat pulled no punches during Thursday’s debate hosted by the North Shore Towers and The Queens Courier.

Democrat Barry Grodenchik, a former state assemblyman who has worked in the offices of former Borough President Claire Shulman and sitting president Melinda Katz, said that he believed his political experience was one of his greatest strengths.

“In my career I have helped over 100,000 people—mostly one at a time—to get what they need out of government,” Grodenchik said. “I hope to continue to provide outstanding constituent service for anyone in this room or anywhere in the 23rd Council District.”

Republican Joe Concannon, meanwhile, used his experience as a retired police captain and his disapproval of Mayor Bill de Blasio as campaign cornerstones, and these themes were talking points in many of his statements.

“The mayor of the City of New York is a train wreck, an absolute train wreck,” Concannon said in his opening statement, “and if one more of my NYPD family has to fall in the name of Bill de Blasio, I’ve had it.”

Both candidates agreed that public transportation was one of the biggest infrastructure needs of the 23rd District, but they disagreed on how this problem should be solved.

Grodenchik believed that the city should consider increasing the usage of the Belmont Park Long Island Rail Road station, a Queens Village train terminal used only during events at the Belmont Race Park. He also said that super express buses should be implemented in the district to eliminate traffic on the Union Turnpike.

“We have a dearth of mass transit here in Queens,” Grodenchik said.

Concannon said that he was in favor of working with the MTA to find creative ways to improve mass transportation but not at a greater cost to taxpayers. He said that part of the problem was that people are not aware of the bus lines servicing their areas and that civic leaders should be consulted on ways to improve that system because it uses a flat rate of payment for all trips.

“Why are we being penalized out here in eastern Queens with the Long Island Rail Road?” Concannon said. “It’s an escalating cost: the further out you get in the system, the more you pay.”

While both candidates also supported the use of the “stop, question and frisk” practices as an operational tool in the NYPD, they disagreed on the extent to which it should be used.

Concannon said that police officers need to be well trained on the procedure because it often needs to be used for law enforcement.

“Stop, question and frisk is a critical tool for any police department across the world, and should be employed professionally,” Concannon said.

Grodenchik said that while the police need to have the ability to stop people if they believe they are acting in a criminal manner, the procedure is generally overused and police should not stop people based on appearances alone.

“Seven hundred thousand ‘stop and frisks’ in the past year is way too many,” Grodenchik said. “It’s just too much and a poor use of police resources.”

The candidates are looking to fill the seat that Mark Weprin vacated in June to become Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s deputy secretary of legislative affairs. The district contains all or parts of Bayside Hills, Bellerose, Douglaston, Floral Park, Fresh Meadows, Glen Oaks, Hollis, Little Neck, New Hyde Park, Oakland Gardens and Queens Village.

The general election is on Tuesday, Nov. 3.

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