By Mark Hallum
City Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) considers his office a unifying force in a district once left to its own devices when his predecessor, Dan Halloran, declined to run for re-election after being charged with corruption. He was later convicted.
But since his 2013 victory in a five-way Democratic primary, Vallone has touted his success in bringing a record $64 million in funds to his district’s schools, senior centers and non-profits during his first term. He is looking forward to another four years of putting northeast Queens back on the map.
“We started off a district divided — no funding, no support, no legislation, no elected officials,” Vallone said, starkly illustrating a constituency without representation in city government. “ We had a council member in jail, we had a district that was left to fend for itself. You had communities that really had to survive with the strength of their own civic groups.”
Now, Vallone said, his district — stretching from College Point in the west to Douglaston and Little Neck in the east — has city leadership which has allied itself with state officials as well as the borough president’s office and other agencies to bring meaningful change. But one of the most immediate issues facing Vallone’s district is school overcrowding, which he attributes to the high standards of education practiced in District 26, the highest performing school district in the city.
“It’s overcrowded everywhere,” Vallone said. “I think we’re starting to see certain schools are starting to have multiple graduation ceremonies. Overcrowding in schools is very real and right now our schools have been able to absorb the extra demand. But I don’t know what the future of that is if we don’t start really looking at some alternatives.”
One option Vallone sees as a feasible solution to overcrowded schools and neighborhoods would be to convert a site near The New York Times printing plant in Flushing. But there are concerns over the feasibility of this scenario because of the marshlands and the fact that all students would have to be bused in or driven.
One common complaint within the eastern portion of his district involves illegal conversions of homes in which a dwelling is subdivided to accommodate multiple families and violates zoning laws. Vallone said the issue is difficult to track since gaining access to these homes for inspectors is difficult, but he believes it can be addressed if the community is diligent about building plans at the time construction is taking place.
In terms of addressing transportation in his district, Vallone said a ferry from a point near Citi Field would be a good park-and-ride location and provide a feasible alternative to the Long Island Rail Road for residents of northeast Queens commuting into the city.
Vallone expressed frustration about the difference in values his district often has compared to the rest of the city because it is a more suburban environment split between liberal and conservative values.
Vallone faces his 2013 primary opponent, land-use expert Paul Graziano, again in the Sept. 12 primary.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall