By Gina Martinez
City Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) and his Democratic challenger Alison Tan had a heated debate Sunday, taking personal jabs at one another while answering questions from the community.
The candidates forum, held at the Sheraton Laguardia East Hotel, was hosted by APA VOICE and 20 partner organizations. Nearly 300 people attended the forum, where the two candidates running to represent District 20 in the City Council answered questions regarding downtown Flushing, Murray Hill and Queensboro Hill. Residents asked the candidates what their plans were to relieve congestion in Flushing.
Koo, CEO and president of the Starside Pharmacy chain, was elected to the New York City Council in November 2009 and is running for his third term. Tan, wife of Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing), is the managing director of Ackman-Ziff Real Estate Group and a CB 7 board member.
Koo began by saying he supported Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal to fund the MTA by taxing the top earners in the city.
“I think this plan is good,” he said. “We have the money to fix the problem. In the meantime, the MTA should increase the frequency of trains and increase the amount of express trains. I also urge the city to add more express buses to Downtown New York.”
Tan said it should be up to the constituents to decide what the tax funds should be used to fix since they are the ones who deal with the trains on a daily basis.
“Certainly anyone can come up with solutions,” Tan said. “But at the core of it, it’s all about funding. Funding is actually available at the MTA level, but that funding is being fought over between our governor and our mayor. For residents, the 7 train is the lifeline to get to work. We need to allocate a significant amount of funding to the discretion of people in the district to have a say on where the money should go.”
Koo then went on to say that Tan’s husband, Ron Kim (D-Flushing), has been an assemblyman for four years and has “done nothing” to fix the subway issues. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is a state agency which oversees the subways, buses, LIRR, MetroNorth, bridges and tunnels in the city.
Tan said she thought it was “quite pathetic” that Koo would attack her husband and that she would rather discuss policy.
They then were asked about the lack of affordable housing in Flushing.
Tan said the Flushing West project, a project that would create 1,600 affordable apartments and retail space between Flushing Creek and the 7 train terminal, was voted down by Koo but would have increased the amount of affordable housing significantly in the community. She said if she were elected she would negotiate with developers to ensure that at least 30 percent of the units in the luxury condos were affordable.
“While we have massive luxury condo development, developers aren’t held accountable to deliver the units that are affordable,” she said. “We haven’t had a Council member that has held these developers accountable. I have background experience in real estate finance and I understand the business aspects of negotiations.”
Koo responded by pointing out that Tan’s husband opposed Flushing West, and as a Community Board 7 member, she voted down the project as well.
“I voted ‘no’ because there is no infrastructure to support it,” Koo said. “She voted it down three months ago at a CB 7 meeting. She flip flops all the time to her political convenience. In order for the project to happen, there would need to be rezoning, the Flushing river would need to be cleaned, and the sewage system as well, which is overflowing. There is also the issue of transportation on the 7 train that is overcrowded.”
At one point, when asked to say something nice about the other opponents, both candidates decided to use it as an opportunity to attack one another. Tan began by “complimenting” Koo’s shrewd ability to pretend to be a Democrat when, she said, he really is a Republican (Koo originally ran as a Republican for his first term before switching parties). Koo retaliated by saying he respected Tan’s ability to navigate the financial industry in order to make money to help billionaires, calling her an “expert in gaming the system.”
Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmart