Where were they?
That’s a question organizers and participants alike shared regarding the absence of a number of local elected officials from Saturday’s massive protest in Maspeth against a proposed homeless shelter in the community.
Nearly 2,000 people were said to have taken part in the protest, but only one of them was an elected member of government — state Senator Tony Avella, who doesn’t even represent the neighborhood.
Protesters focused primarily on the whereabouts of their local representatives in the city and state legislatures: Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, state Senator Joe Addabbo and Assemblywoman Margaret Markey. QNS reached out to all three officials to find out what happened.
The three lawmakers had attended a closed-door meeting with city officials on Aug. 2 regarding the proposal to convert the Holiday Inn Express on 55th Road in Maspeth into a homeless shelter for adults. Crowley and Addabbo previously attended a raucous Aug. 11 meeting at Martin Luther School and publicly voiced their opposition to the conversion. Markey was not among the attendees, but she later issued a statement explaining that she, too, is opposed to the shelter proposal.
In a phone interview, Addabbo said he was out of town with his family on a previously scheduled obligation, but that he is in regular contact with the Maspeth community and is fully opposed to the shelter.
“I appreciate their efforts and I understand their anger,” Addabbo told QNS.
The senator stressed that he is actively working to convince the de Blasio administration to abandon the proposed homeless shelter. Though he and other local lawmakers have repeatedly sought a face-to-face meeting with the administration on the matter, he claimed those requests were rebuffed.
“In the end, no matter what rallies are done and whatever we’re trying to do, this is nobody else’s decision but the mayor’s,” Addabbo said. He noted that the administration has turned down requests in the past to meet with him on other topics such as the proposed homeless shelter in Glendale and Rockaway ferry service.
“This mayor doesn’t want to meet one-on-one with the elected officials,” he added. “The whole process of housing homeless people shows a lack of cooperation, a lack of dialogue. They just placed [shelters] with practically no notice, no conversation, no dialogue, nothing.”
Without offering an exact explanation of where Crowley was Saturday, a source familiar with Crowley’s office stated that the legislator opted to leave the protests in the hands of the community. The source said Crowley has instead focused on what could be done in an official capacity; she has spoken about the matter with the city comptroller’s office and the de Blasio administration and written letters to various agencies in an effort to stop the proposal.
“I have and will always dedicate all of my efforts to taking real action in government, exploring every possible legislative and legal route to take to preserve my constituents’ quality of life,” Crowley said in a statement issued on Tuesday.
QNS sent several emails to a spokesperson for Markey, and is still awaiting a response directly related to the questions asked.
Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association (JPCA), found the absence of elected officials at Saturday’s protest inexcusable. The rally was coordinated through the Maspeth-Middle Village Task Force, of which the JPCA is a participating organization.
Holden indicated that the lack of elected officials at the protest, as well as at nightly rallies held outside the Holiday Inn Express, stoked animosity among local residents toward their representatives in government. He also questioned whether the presence of some of the lawmakers’ opponents in the upcoming election — Brian Barnwell and Tony Nunziato, both of whom are challenging Markey; and Michael Conigliaro, who is challenging Addabbo — caused the incumbents to stay away.
“It didn’t take much to fuel the fire. The elected officials provided the spark by not showing up, and now it’s a full-blown forest fire,” Holden said. “If they come, we will welcome them.”