Before constituents of the 30th Council District head to the polls on Sept. 12 to cast their vote in the Democratic primary, the Ridgewood Property Owners and Civic Association (RPOCA) had both candidates on stage for an important Q&A session on Thursday night.
During the forum, the candidates — incumbent Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley and civic leader Robert Holden — were asked a series of questions on issues that directly affect the residents of Ridgewood and the surrounding areas including the fear of overdevelopment, transportation, the housing and homelessness crises, the continued historic preservation of Ridgewood homes, and a host of other topics.
For what has become possibly the most contentious campaign this primary season, the candidates were rather respectful of one another as they sat on the same stage, fielding questions from RPOCA members.
Things did, however, get a little heated between the candidates when the subjects of downzoning and historic preservation were raised.
When asked if they would support a downzoning initiative for the greater Ridgewood area (including Glendale, Maspeth and Middle Village) to further protect the existing housing stock, both answered that they would.
Crowley went on to mention that she helped rezone Maspeth, Middle Village and Glendale as one of the first things she did when she took office in 2009. Holden claimed, however, that Crowley came into office at the tail end of a decades-long battle to get the area downzoned where he and other civic leaders spearheaded the initiative to get the zoning change.
“Eventually when Elizabeth Crowley came in, two months later it was, again, downzoned,” Holden said. “We’re at a point where she is taking credit for that, but we did all the labor, we did all the heavy lifting.”
Crowley shot back that she was able to get the downzoning done in a short time because she prioritized the issue as soon as she got in office, while Holden was working on the issue for decades.
“The truth of the matter is, we were able to achieve a goal that he tried with other elected officials to achieve for generations if it was over 45 years, and we were able to accomplish that in the City Council,” she said.
Although both Crowley and Holden support plans to downzone and landmark areas in the communities, they disagree on major topics important to constituents.
When it comes to transportation, both candidates have unique ideas on how to keep the people of the “World’s Borough” moving.
Holden wants to see a luxury condo tax and a commuter tax be implemented in order to help pay for repairs to the city’s failing infrastructure, claiming that high-rise condos are responsible for bringing more people to the community, which leads to an overtaxing of the city’s transportation systems.
“They are creating the overcrowding,” Holden said of luxury condos. “They have overburdened certainly our subways. I think better than tax only the rich, you tax the developers that are building these high rises and really causing all the problems.”
Crowley, on the other hand, does not want to see more taxes for the middle class; instead, she wants to invest more in the infrastructure that will benefit her constituents, such as her plan to reopen the Long Island Rail Road’s (LIRR) Lower Montauk Line to commuter service.
“That’s an opportunity to provide transit and to provide new economic development to communities in need, to communities I represent,” she said. “It’s supported by Community Board 5 and every community board the right of way runs through.”
Another area of disagreement between the two is what to do with Rikers Island.
Crowley supports the plan to close the island over the next 10 years on the fact that Rikers has been plagued with violence, she said, and only a small fraction of the inmates there get sent to upstate facilities.
“It’s not a prison,” Crowley said of Rikers Island. “The vast majority of inmates are considered detainees. They haven’t been convicted of a crime, and only 13 percent wind up going to upstate prison; 87 percent come right back into your community. Do you want to make sure they get corrected and become better, law-abiding citizens, or do you want them to become better criminals?”
Instead of housing criminals at Rikers, Crowley suggested they be held at the Queens House of Detention in Kew Gardens, near the Queens Criminal Courthouse. She reiterated that she is not in favor of opening any kind of community jails that would impact the quality of life of residents.
Holden wants to keep the criminals right where they are and not open any type of community jails. He believes that developers are looking to get their hands on Rikers so they can build more high-rise buildings and contribute to the city’s overdevelopment.
Voters will now have to digest everything they heard from the candidates and make their voice heard during the Democratic primary on Tuesday, Sept. 12.