BY ANTHONY GIUDICE AND ROBERT POZARYCKI
Robert Holden has been an outspoken voice on the western Queens civic scene for decades as president of the Middle Village-based Juniper Park Civic Association (JPCA), but now he’s looking to branch out into city government.
Holden is challenging incumbent Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley in this September’s Democratic primary, according to the Queens Chronicle. He is expected to formally announce his candidacy at the April 27 JPCA meeting in Middle Village.
The Middle Village resident has led the JPCA for decades, fighting for the communities of Maspeth and Middle Village on various quality-of-life issues, from real estate to crime. Now that he is retiring as a professor from the New York City College of Technology, Holden wants to take his activism to another level and become a lawmaker to further improve the communities.
“It’s been a long journey, 30 years of doing this,” Holden told QNS in a phone interview on April 26. “I never wanted to get into politics, but I am retiring from the college. My wife said, ‘You don’t want to get into politics,’ but something just tells me now I’ve got to try. I’ve got to turn the page.”
Holden does not believe the current lawmakers at City Hall — specifically Crowley — are adequately representing the people and communities that they serve.
“There are a lot things Elizabeth Crowley has done wrong,” Holden said. “Elizabeth Crowley and the Democrats in Queens have not done the right thing for a while now. And at this point I couldn’t sit back and let the Democratic machine do what they want. They aren’t representing the community. And I think I’ve shown that I can fight, and I think that’s what I’m good at. I can organize people and get the word out. That’s one thing I was taught by [former Councilman] Tom Ognibene.”
Holden and his organization have frequently butted heads with Crowley on myriad issues since she took office in 2009. The most recent chapter in their feud has been the battle over a proposed homeless shelter at a Maspeth hotel. While both Crowley and Holden publicly opposed the plan initially proposed last August, Holden and many JPCA members felt that Crowley didn’t fight hard enough on the community’s behalf to defeat it.
In October, the city began renting rooms at the hotel to house homeless men, but backed off on a full conversion of the hotel. Mayor Bill de Blasio, however, said in March that the Community Board 5 area (Ridgewood, Glendale, Maspeth and Middle Village) would eventually get a homeless shelter.
Some speculated that Crowley was working behind the scenes on a deal to nix a proposed homeless shelter in her hometown of Glendale in favor of a Maspeth shelter — a rumor that Crowley and city officials said was false.
“This is very different for me. I don’t know what to expect, I really don’t,” Holden said of his campaign. “I’ve been behind the scenes on political campaigns, so politics isn’t new to me. I just think I’ve given everything I can to the neighborhood and then some. It’s going to be interesting, that’s for sure.”
As for the incumbent, Crowley issued a statement in which she expressed pride in her own record and looks forward “to a spirited campaign focused on the issues that affect our communities.”
“Together, we have secured school funding for 5,400 new classroom seats, enhanced public safety by hiring more police, and preserved essential city services such as fire and EMS. But there are still many challenges we face,” Crowley said. “I am eager to make the case to voters this campaign season that I am the experienced, enthusiastic and persistent voice they can continue to depend on to lead our community in the Council.”