By Bill Parry
City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) has had a credibility issue with the Maspeth shelter protesters since the city announced plans to convert a hotel into a homeless shelter. Critics say her perceived lack of transparency has been a subplot during more than two months of rallies and marches, a charge she denies.
Last week two events propelled the issue to center stage.
During a tense exchange between Crowley and the city’s Human Resources commissioner, Steven Banks, Oct. 19 at Borough Hall, he mentioned a meeting he had with the councilwoman about the Maspeth shelter plan in June. Crowley has said she was informed of the Department of Homeless Service’s plan to convert the Holiday Inn Express into a homeless shelter just days before an Aug. 3 meeting.
“We met in May and we did not talk about this shelter proposal in general, we talked about the overall homeless crisis and it was a quick meeting,” Crowley said last Friday at City Hall after she was interrupted by Michael Conigliaro, a Republican candidate for state Senate, during a public demonstration against the Mayor Bill de Blasio’s homeless policies.
“To stand here and grandstand and then not be honest with the people they represent is wrong,” he shouted. A spokeswoman for the Department of Homeless Services said Crowley did have prior knowledge of the plan.
“The Department of Social Services engaged in detailed and extensive conversations with Council member Crowley regarding the proposed homeless shelter in Maspeth several months prior to the Aug. 3 community notification meeting,” Lauren Gray said.
An agency source added that Banks informed Crowley that there were plans by a nonprofit service provider to convert the Holiday Inn in Maspeth from a commercial hotel into a homeless shelter for adult families at a May 19 meeting and that Crowley and Banks met and exchanged phone calls several times before August 3.
Crowley insists that no specific plans for a shelter were discussed on May 19.
“On July 14, I had a conversation with the administration assuring me that there was no shelter proposal for my district,” Crowley said. “Three weeks later, we hear they want to move 110 families into the Maspeth Holiday Inn. As we have seen in the past, this administration has a bad record when it comes to being forthright, and I am disappointed they would make this accusation instead of dealing with the problem at hand — homelessness in New York City.”
Another city official came under fire from two of the lawmakers who took part in last Friday’s demonstration organized by City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park). City Hall spokeswoman Aja Worthy Davis took Ulrich, Crowley, state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), and state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) to task for taking part.
“The mayor has been clear — homelessness is a citywide problem and each community will play its part,” she said. “Local elected officials should have the courage to take on this problem with the mayor rather than rally against housing homeless children in their communities.”
Addabbo called Worthy-Davis’ statement inaccurate because they always reach out to the mayor.
“I’ll always leave the door open to this administration because we have to find a solution,” he said.
Peralta thought her statement was out of bounds.
“We’re the ones that have been extending the olive branch,” he said. “He should have the courage to work with us and the bottom line here is he hasn’t.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr