Mayor offers olive branch to residents who protested against Maspeth homeless shelter

Mayor offers olive branch to residents who protested against Maspeth homeless shelter
By Bill Parry

Mayor Bill de Blasio attempted to hit the reset button with Queens residents who rose up against his administration’s attempt to covert the Maspeth Holiday Inn Express into a homeless shelter during the summer of 2016.

The mayor appeared at a town hall meeting at PS/IS 113 in Glendale Monday night hosted by outgoing City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Glendale), the two-term incumbent who lost her bid for re-election to civic leader Robert Holden by just 137 votes on Nov. 8.

“I want to just say to this community that we want to restart and have a dialogue with this community and figure out a way forward together in the spirit of the season,” de Blasio said. We want to sit at the table, start over, to figure out how we can address this problem the right way and work with the community on solutions.”

Holden, who led nightly protests outside the Maspeth Holiday Inn Express for nearly four months and was highly critical of the city’s plans for a homeless shelter in Glendale in 2014, had been invited by the mayor’s office to attend but he had already committed to a speaking engagement at the Middle Village Property Owners and Residents Association scheduled at the same time. A resident of Cooper Avenue, Joy Huber, asked the mayor about his “flippant comments” following Holden’s election and whether the two could work together.

Although Crowley had defeated Holden with nearly 64 percent of the vote in September’s Democratic primary, the Queens GOP gave him its Republican party line, which the registered Democrat for more than 44 years ran on and captured more than 8,400 votes. In post-election comments to reporter, de Blasio said of Holden that “he’s obviously a Republican and we don’t share values and I’ll try to work with him, although I suspect we won’t see eye to eye on most issues.”

The two men held a telephone conversation Monday and the mayor had a decidedly different tone in his answer to the Glendale resident.

“I made very clear I will certainly work with the new council member,” de Blasio said. “I have worked with people from the other party, the Republican party, in the Council for a long, long time productively. I expect this to be a productive relationship, too. Look, if my comments seemed flippant, it may be because we’re in a rather agitated moment in history, and a lot of us are feeling very strongly about the bigger issues about the two parties. But that does not mean, on the day-to-day issues affecting the community, that we don’t have to put that aside.”

Holden thought the conversation was a step in the right direction.

“It was very good. The mayor called me and congratulated me on my victory and I congratulated him on his victory and joked that mine was a little closer than his,” Holden said. “He said that he has worked well with Republicans in the past and I explained I’m not really a Republican, it’s more complex than that. He said I like your tone and let’s turn the page and find common goals.”

Holden was also invited to meet de Blasio at Gracie Mansion later this month.

Another major topic during the town hall meeting was the controversial Select Bus Service program that began last month along Woodhaven Boulevard. There were several complaints from the audience about heavy traffic along the corridor.

“We are learning as we go is the honest truth. We can make adjustments,” de Blasio said. “We need to keep fine-tuning to make sure it works best for the community.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.