A confident de Blasio comes to Queens

By Gabriel Rom

The mayor found his way to Queens Monday evening—and seemed to enjoy it.

At a mostly cordial town hall in Bayside, a confident de Blasio fielded pointed questions on quality-of-life issues in northern Queens and worked to connect them to his administration’s focus on housing affordability, especially for seniors.

As the audience waited for the mayor to arrive, civic leaders said they were both excited and surprised that the mayor would come speak to them.

“Lets just say I’m thrilled that he is here. It’s about time,” said James Gallagher Jr., President of First Meadows Homeowners Civic Association.

Faced with a slew of local questions from rotting roads near the NYPD Police Academy in College Point to the reconstruction of Fort Totten Park, de Blasio pushed his squadron of advisers to be specific and straightforward. It was a concerted effort from the mayor to show he was in touch with Queens’ concerns from the macro to the mundane.

When asked about poor road conditions near the Police Academy, de Blasio handed the question to DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, who explained that there are many issues with roads throughout the city.

“Why don’t you talk about this one,” the mayor interjected. “Do you have a plan?”

“We do have a plan we’re working on, but it’s going to be very expensive…the tens of millions,” Trottenberg responded.

Matthew Silverstein, vice president of the Bay Terrace Community Alliance, asked the mayor for help in completing the transformation of Fort Totten from a military base into a park–an initiative that he said began over a decade ago.

Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver offered few specifics on a future timeline but said over $1 million had recently been secured for site investigation

“That’s good, we commend you for your improvement,” the mayor said. “But, Mitch, give us a sense of the next milestone, people have waited a long time for this.”

On issues like “out-of-character” residential buildings, rising property taxes and increased helicopter and airplane noise, de Blasio himself had few hard policy prescriptions to offer.

“One of the reasons why it’s good to talk directly to people is to tell you sometimes good news and sometimes not-so good news,” de Blasio said in response to a question about funding for summer camps, but the point applied for much of the three-hour meeting.

Michael Feiner, president of the Bayside Hills Civic Association, asked the Mayor to change the city’s zoning laws to disallow “out-of-character” buildings to be built next to semi-attached dwellings.

“I want to be real about the fact that there are a lot of things we are working on right now and the primary focus is on creating affordable senior housing,” the mayor said. “I don’t want to promise you a rose garden, but you’re right that we should look at it.”

Feiner had rallied two weeks ago alongside state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) in front of a new towering development in Bayside.

“It’s about time that the city pays attention to these quiet middle-class communities that pay their taxes and want something in return,” Avella said.

Avella, one of the mayor’s loudest critics, was conspicuously absent from the town hall and accused de Blasio of playing dirty by sending him an invitation late to an out-of-date email address

“I have been one of the most vocal critics of Mayor de Blasio’s administration and so I’m not expecting to curry a lot of favor with his office, but there is a line you cannot cross when exacting political retribution; a certain line where politicking turns autocratic,” Avella said in a statement.

The mayor’s office contended Avella’s statement was much ado about nothing

“He’s been invited, and certainly we welcome all elected officials,” the mayor said at a news conference Monday afternoon. “It’s as simple as that.”

The mayor sounded more confident at the town hall as he made the case for widespread affordable housing throughout the city—a signature proposal of his administration.

“We have to think about everything we do in the city to make it a more senior-friendly city,” de Blasio said to applause from the senior-heavy audience.

The mayor pledged to create housing and transportation options that would allow seniors to age in the places of their choice.

Reach reporter Gabriel Rom by e-mail at grom@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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