As the president of the United States was getting ready to give his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, Councilman Costa Constantinides addressed his constituents at a school auditorium in Astoria.
Constantinides, who was re-elected to a second and final term in November 2017, gave his State of the District address at P.S. 17, where he outlined accomplishments along with future goals his office set. He represents Astoria, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights and Woodside.
“Let me say first that the resounding vote of confidence you gave me, my staff and our work last November meant more to us than you can ever know,” he said. “Every day I am mindful of the charge you have tasked me with and the work that has yet to be done for our community and our city.”
Constantinides said he was “most proud” that the three priorities he highlighted during his first campaign – the expansion of Mount Sinai Queens, the removal of school trailers and cleaning up dirty power plants – are mostly complete.
The City Council invested more than $7 million for the expanded Mount Sinai Queens, which includes a state-of-the-art Emergency Department, six new operating rooms, a stroke center and increased outpatient medical services.
Queens contains the most overcrowded schools in the city and schools such as P.S. 151, P.S. 70 and P.S. 2 utilized Temporary Classroom Units or TCU’s for many years. At the end of his second term, TCUs at these schools will be removed.
“It’s simply inexcusable that it took this long to get the units out of these schoolyards – and that we still have more units to retire,” he said. “For the over 250 students that used those trailers, however, this marks a new beginning for their academic career.”
The Astoria councilman is also the chair of the Committee of Environmental Protection and focused much of his speech on ways his office has continued to combat climate change and other harmful effects of pollution. In December, a bill he introduced to require power plants in the city, including in Long Island City and Astoria, to stop using dirty fossil fuels for power sooner than previously proposed passed the City Council.
Constantinides announced additional funding for district schools as part of his Science 2050 initiative, where he plans to allocate $1 million per year to schools for new computers, laptops and SmartBoards. P.S. 17 is the next school in his district that will soon get a hydroponic science lab.
He added that his “proudest moment” as the chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection came when the city council passed the Environmental Justice Act.
“Unfortunately, it is often no coincidence that buildings like power plants, factories and waste facilities are located in poorer, and often non-white, neighborhoods,” he said. “Asthma rates, developmental delays and other health problems are much higher in these neighborhoods than elsewhere. Getting these bills passed after a decade of fighting was one of the high points of the term.”
Looking ahead, Constantinides said he will introduce a bill to reduce emissions in large, city-owned commercial buildings. He will also re-introduce two bills that will make it easier for property owners to get approval from the Department of Buildings to embark on renewable energy projects like wind and solar.
“As anyone who’s dealt with DOB knows, even the most garden variety projects can often ensnare you in endless strands of red tape,” he said. “When you add cutting edge technology on top of that, you’re only complicating it further.”
Constantinides will also work with his colleagues in the City Council to “direct the city to study current and anticipated flood patterns and come up with a comprehensive plan to mitigate it.”
Before he leaves office, Constantinides has committed to building 500 new units of affordable housing for his district’s seniors.
“I am already hard at work coordinating with potential community partners and nonprofits who are looking for opportunities to build,” he said. “Our office has gotten too many anguished pleas for help finding decent housing, and we have a duty to act now.”
He also announced his support for Tax Equity New York’s lawsuit, where a coalition of people are suing the city to “require equity in property taxes across the city.”
According to Crain’s New York, the city extended tax breaks to predominately white homeowners to prevent “white flight” in the 1960s and ’70s. But in recent years, property values for neighborhoods such as Park Slope have shot up while taxes have stayed low. The suit argues that this cap has raised the burden on homeowners who do not get these incentives, many of whom are minorities.
“There is simply no valid reason for renters in Astoria and East Elmhurst, or homeowners in Bayside or Rosedale, for that matter, to subsidize the hottest neighborhoods in Manhattan and Brooklyn,” he said. “Doing what we can to help our fellow New Yorkers is part of what makes us who we are, and I believe that this is the right thing to do.”
Astoria Park recently received $30 million for upgrades as part of the mayor’s Anchor Parks program. During his second term, Constantinides wants to focus on the park’s pool – specifically its locker rooms, basin and deck.
His first step will be to bring the locker room up to modern standards and an overhaul of the pool’s basin and deck will ensure that the pool can be used for programming year-round, he said.
“Now, let’s be clear – this will be a larger capital expense by far than any I have undertaken, and it will not be completed before I leave office,” he said. “All of us, however, have a responsibility to ensure that we leave things better than we found them, and while it will be daunting, I believe that we can do it.”
Constantinides ended his speech by contrasting his vision of America with the “resurgence of backlash politics” coming from Washington.
“‘Draining the swamp’ becomes rampant cronyism, nepotism and a pay-to-play system unheard of in modern American politics,” he said. “And, of course, ‘making America great again’ becomes a policy of systematic cruelty towards all those who do not fit in Donald Trump’s vision of America.”
Constantindes then listed topics that he said President Trump would not mention in his speech – the deportation of Bablu Sharif, a father and husband from Woodside who was deported to Bangladesh in October and the Haitian, Salvadoran and DACA-recipients living in Queens “who do not know if they’ll be able to celebrate another holiday season in the land they’ve come to know as their home.”
“As one, we will look out for our neighbors, and let them know that we will protect them, and that they do not need to be afraid,” he said. “As one, we will safeguard our natural resources and our public institutions for generations yet to come. And as one, we will show our native son in the Oval Office that it is tolerance and love, not division and discord, that lie at the heart of the Queens we love and that light the path to our future.”