UPDATE: Board member defends remark that Corona bike lanes won’t be needed ‘once Trump removes illegals’

Photo via Twitter/juanjonjuan

Updated March 2, 11:15 a.m.

Despite calls for her removal, Ann Pfoser Darby, a longtime Community Board 4 (CB 4) member who made racially charged comments during a discussion on Tuesday night about bicycle lanes in Corona, doubled-down on her comments Wednesday night in interviews with several media outlets.

“I see who goes by and who doesn’t, and there was a lot of people going by to work early in the morning and like about 90 percent of them are gone,” she told DNAinfo. Pfoser Darby added that she thought this meant Immigration and Customs Enforcement had deported them.

When a DNAinfo reporter asked her how she knew people riding the bike lanes were illegal she said, “You can kind of tell, especially sometimes the way they dress.”

At a CB 4 Transportation Committee meeting on Feb. 28 in Elmhurst, members were examining the addition of protected bike lanes along 111th street in Corona. Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland provided funding for the bicycle lanes in 2013 but the creation of the lanes has been repeatedly pushed back because of criticism from CB 4.

According to Juan Restrepo, a member of Transportation Alternatives, talks about the proposed improvements along the corridor had resurfaced during the meeting when Pfoser Darby said “once Trump removes all the illegals from Corona, there won’t be anybody to ride bike lanes.”

CB 4, which consists of Corona and Elmhurst has a population that is overwhelmingly foreign born. According to city data, 66 percent of residents are foreign born, 52 percent of residents are of Hispanic descent, 34 percent of Asian descent and the remaining 8 percent identify as white, black or other.

Ferreras-Copeland slammed the board member and argued that “this bigoted attitude” may be the reason for the delay in implementation of safety improvements.

“This is a shockingly racist and xenophobic statement from a public servant,” the councilwoman said. “Such comments which are unambiguously racist and morally repugnant will not be ignored nor met with silence or indifference.”

Councilman Daniel Dromm, who represents Jackson Heights and Elmhurst, said on Twitter that he agreed with Ferreras-Copeland and argued that term limits should be imposed for community board members.

Damian Vargas, chair of CB 4 and Ferreras-Copeland got into a public debate on Vargas’ Facebook page.

“While the comments made by Ms. Darby are unacceptable and will not be tolerated by Community Board 4, Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland’s statement only serves to further a political agenda while further dividing a community in need of bridges and trust of our elected officials,” Vargas said about Ferreras-Copeland’s comments.

He added that as a son of undocumented immigrants, he felt that Ferreras-Copeland’s comments were an attack of his character because he interpreted her comments as an attack on all community board members. He said that he demanded an apology.

“Once an public apology is made, I will look forward to your office joining other elected officials in determining a proper course of action to address Ms. Darby’s comments,” he said.

The councilwoman responded and urged Vargas to call her office to discuss the issue.

“Let me be crystal clear: I called her statement ‘racist’ and ‘xenophobic,'” she said. “Not her, nor other community board members. I look forward to working with you and other board members to resolve this urgent issue. As one of the three elected officials responsible for appointing the members of this board, it is my duty to respond when our community is attacked.”

Residents and Ferreras-Copeland argued that the corridor is unsafe and should be improved for the large number of parents and children who use it to access Flushing Meadows Corona Park. There have been 17 pedestrian crashes, 22 bicycle crashes and 93 motor vehicle crashes on the corridor between 43rd Avenue and Corona Avenue from 2009 through 2013.

In her statement, the councilwoman demanded that Pfoser Darby be replaced.

“I am demanding the immediate removal of this board member for promoting hatred and ignorance,” she said. “It is time she is removed and is replaced with someone who is serious about restoring the people’s trust in their government.”

In October 2016, Corona residents, along with Ferreras-Copeland, visited City Hall to demand that the mayor and Department of Transportation move along with the project. DOT has tweaked the project, which includes making one lane on each side a parking lane and adding protected bike paths, to try to please CB 4 members and Assemblyman Francisco Moya, who is also against the project.

That same month, the DOT released a new plan that would keep two southbound lanes but designate one northbound lane for parking and the other for driving. The northbound lane will also have a two-way protected bike lane. DOT said they would move forward with the project despite CB 4’s advisory vote.

According to Streetsblog, the CB 4 Transportation Committee again decided not to vote on the project, instead voting to move the decision to the next full board meeting on March 14.

Pfoser Darby was first elected to CB 4 in 1987; members are appointed to two-year terms by Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and the City Council.

“These types of comments by public servants are never acceptable,” Katz said in a statement.

Katz is scheduled to announce her decisions on CB appointments and re-appointments by the end of this month.

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