Candidates battle it out at Queens forums

Candidates for city office discussed their views at forums across the borough.
Photo by Mark Hallum
By Mark Hallum

Candidates for mayor and public advocates pitched their stances on citywide issues Tuesday in a forum hosted by the Bay Terrace Community Alliance, with topics ranging from transit to the homeless crisis and Rikers Island.

Among the speakers were sitting Public Advocate Letitia James and her opponents, James Lane and David Eisenbach; Democratic mayoral contenders Bo Dietl, Sal Albanese and Michael Tolkin; Republican candidate for Queens borough president William Kregler; and City Council candidates Paul Graziano and incumbent Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside).

“We should protect individuals who are rent-stabilized,” James said, criticizing the mayor for moving the homeless into hotel shelter conversions and cluster sites as temporary lodging. “Apartments should be converted to permanent housing for the homeless as opposed to continuing this explosion of shelters all throughout the city of New York. The best way to deal with homelessness is to provide someone with a permanent home as opposed to keeping them in temporary quarters.”

James’ Green Party opponent, James Lane, said he would make it his priority if elected to investigate Rikers Island iin terms of the number of people incarcerated who are awaiting trial or cannot afford bail. He was in favor of the mayor’s proposal to permanently close the facility.

“I would like to go into the cases, because we’ve seen that we’ve held people at Rikers for years,” Lane said. “So the real question is, why are people being held at Rikers Island? Are they actual criminals or are they being held because they’re poor?”

Eisenbach said he would protect small business in the city by sponsoring a bill modeled after similar legislation passed by former Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, which put rent control caps on commercial space.

As a history professor at Columbia University, Eisenbach looks to the city’s history for answers to the issues residents face today and said he is running for office because the New York he loves is disappearing.

According to Dietl, the de Blasio administration is overlooking the problems New Yorkers face with a crippled subway system by not offering money to the MTA, despite having a surplus of funds.

“I’ve got a problem with being stuck on the subway,” Dietl said. “[De Blasio’s] got a $4 billion in surplus. Release a half a billion dollars – fix the damn thing and let’s worry about it after that.”

Sal Albanese, a former Brooklyn city councilman, said the real issue behind the homeless crisis is foreign investors sitting on real estate and proposed a special tax on these types of property owners.

“The city has a thousand parcels of empty land, I want to build real affordable housing that people in those zip codes can actually afford,” Albanese said. “I want to tax those properties at a higher level and funnel that money into affordable housing.”

Michael Tolkin said he was not a supporter of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s congestion pricing proposal to fund the MTA, but claimed he planned to “revolutionize” how people get around the transit deserts of the outer boroughs through a ride share program style after Uber and Lyft.

Tolkin claimed this would not only address the lack of mass transit infrastructure in northeast Queens, but would resolve some of woes experienced by users of the ailing Access-A-Ride program.

William Kregler’s views about establishing a ferry service for northeast Queens were less-than-enthusiastic with the notion that the proposal will likely fall out of favor in the winter time or when inclement weather strikes.

Kregler believed a much better investment would be to launch a series of select bus routes in the eastern part of the borough to connect people to other parts of the city.

Paul Graziano, a land-use expert and consultant, said with a heavy dose of skepticism that the only points he believed a ferry terminal could be built would be College Point or Fort Totten, and those locations would be problematic for the community and with the limited access to the fort.

Vallone differed from his opponent, questioning the feasibility of ferry service launching in northeast Queens for residents commuting to and from Manhattan. Vallone, however, pointed out the availability of space and an unused marina at Willets Point for a ferry terminal.

These candidates met at another forum at St. Johns University in Flushing Aug. 22 and challenged one another on the same issues.

Mayoral candidate Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-Staten Island) voiced her support for City Hall cooperating with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the MTA to fund and fix the subways, while city Comptroller Scott Stringer backed Cuomo’s congestion pricing proposal and called for a carbon tax for a dedicated revenue stream for the MTA.

Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhallum@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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