By Bill Parry
Did the de Blasio administration go a tweet too far?
An organizer of the ongoing Maspeth homeless shelter protests believes so after a slick video appeared on the mayor’s social media accounts after more than 200 protesters appeared at rallies outside hotels that house homeless families in Bellrose and Floral Park, Long Island.
Juniper Park Civic Association President Bob Holden said the protesters, who were exhausted after nearly seven weeks of rallies at the Holiday Inn Express on 55th Road, have been rejuvenated by the video and more neighborhoods are planning to join them after they were vilified on social media.
“He’s fanned the flames, for sure, and the mayor is making us stronger” Holden said. “We’re on the move, Sunset Park, Rosedale and Woodside, and we’re planning to take this fight to the steps of City Hall. It’s a revolution now, and the mayor is feeling the pressure or else he wouldn’t be making videos to sway public opinion.”
This comes just over a week after 300 residents boarded three buses for a road trip to Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, where they protested at the home of Human Resources Administration Commissioner Steven Banks, who oversees the Department of Homeless Services, drawing the ire of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who said the city will not be intimidated by the angry residents. On Saturday, nearly 200 made the bus trip to protest at two hotels owned by Harshad Patel that have been converted to shelters.
When the city got wind of the protesters’ plans, DHS transported dozens of children and their families from the two shelters to spend the day at the Children’s Museum in Manhattan rather than being subjected to angry protesters on their doorstep. The administration dispatched camera crews to both the shelters and museum and the video they produced, which featured Banks, appeared on social media Sunday.
“How do you explain to children why angry adults are out in front of they place they’re living and want to throw them into the streets?” Banks asks. “So we thought today we would take the children and their families to some place nice where they can experience a helping hand from adults rather than the back of the hand.”
Holden called the video reminiscent of communist propaganda.
“Stalin would be proud,” he said. “These tactics should not be tolerated by the taxpayers. Maybe that money should have gone to the homeless themselves. To spend city resources like that is shameful and disgraceful.”
The anger was compounded by de Blasio spokeswoman Aja Worthy-Davis who said, “Opponents of our efforts to house the homeless have now trained their sights on homeless toddlers. It’s disgusting and dangerous, and our city must stand up against it.”
Holden claims the protesters didn’t even know there were children in the two shelters.
“They clearly had a plan going in to make it look like we’re attacking kids,” Holden said. “They tried to make us into villains and racists because we’re mostly white, and that’s not right, because the homeless come in all different colors and ethnicities.”
Just two nights before the protest, organizer Mike Papa implored the crowd at a Juniper Park Civic Association to keep the focus of their rally on the de Blasio administration.
“We don’t want to aim this at the homeless, they are the victims here too,” Papa said. “We are aiming at the de Blasio administration and DHS.”
State Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D–Howard Beach) was at that meeting last Thursday, and he spoke at the Bellrose Inn rally Saturday.
“This kind of genuine anger among my constituents was cased by the mayor. If the administration had come to us asking for help instead of dictating, all this could have been avoided had we worked on this together,” Addabbo said. “There’s no question it’s spreading to other neighborhoods in Queens. I’ve heard from Leroy Comrie in Jamaica where they already have homeless in a brand-new hotel, and I’ve heard from Jose Peralta about discovering homeless living in a Corona hotel. In all my years of public service, I’ve never seen neighborhoods so angry. What the city is doing is not working.”
As Holden and the Maspeth protesters plan more rallies at shelters around the borough, he is drafting letters to the Department of Investigation and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
“Bloomberg would have just ignored us,” Holden said. “And here you have de Blasio spending taxpayer money on a communist propaganda operation. I’m asking DOI and Bharara to look into the mayor’s conduct and his spending and his dealings with Patel, who has admitted to bribing a government official in the past. Meanwhile, I spoke with Patel last week and he reaffirmed that he will not go through with converting his Maspeth hotel into a shelter and that there is no agreement while the city says negotiations continue. This is all very strange.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr