Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez received a warm welcome from Community Board 1 members in Astoria Tuesday night as she entered the room and later addressed residents’ concerns of primary issues in the community.
“I’m really excited to be here. What we want to do is extend our hands to come to you and let you all know that we want to be a resource for the community and Queens at large,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “If you have any concerns from the environment to education and labor, please feel free to let us know and use us as a resource.”
Although the Bronx native and Queens representative opened her district office in Jackson Heights last month at the Bruson Building located at 74-09 37th Ave. — about eight blocks from where her predecessor Joseph Crowley operated from — Ocasio-Cortez extended an invitation to her constituents to celebrate their official opening on March 20.
The Congresswoman didn’t hesitate to answer questions from board members and residents offering her perspective on local issues such as the closing of Rikers Island, to addressing the elephant in the room — Amazon’s decision on Feb. 14 to pull its planned New York City headquarters in Long Island City, after fierce opposition from local elected lawmakers and residents.
Ocasio-Cortez stressed that her biggest concern with Amazon was its decision to build in Long Island City, which seemed as though the plan was already set in stone with no community input, she said.
“I think justifiably a lot of people in the community were concerned because they didn’t understand the details of the deal and the community didn’t feel like they had a say in what was going on,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “It wasn’t about being anti-Amazon or pro-Amazon, it was about setting up a deal that works for the community and the question was are they going to displace us or invest in us? If we’re going to give so much away we need to make sure we’re getting that amount back.”
She noted that her constituents were concerned about rent skyrocketing following the announcement, and as well as the increase of real estate market home prices.
“Purchases of these buildings were happening at an elevated clip,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “This was going to make everyone’s rent go up painfully … it’s already unaffordable here and totally out of control. What is popular is not always right and what is right is not always popular. We shouldn’t be inviting bullies into our neighborhood. My job is to look after Astoria, Jackson Heights and Woodside, and if they say, ‘This is something we’re concerned about,’ it’s my job to listen.”
When asked about the possible shuttering of Rikers Island and inmates of color who are arrested for low-level crimes sitting in jail for two to three years unable to afford bail, Ocasio-Cortez agreed that cash bail should be diminished.
“Right now our system is not one about who is more dangerous and who is less dangerous; it is about who can afford bail and who cannot afford bail,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “If you can afford a more aggressive lawyer, then your sentence will be reduced. This is now turning into a system where justice is bought.”
In regards to Mayor de Blasio’s plan to build borough-based jails, she believes that fewer people should be placed in jail who don’t belong there and that the structural and systemic issues at Rikers Island must be fixed.
“If you’re 16 years old and someone thinks that you stole a backpack, that’s not a reason for you to spend three years in jail without a trial,” said Ocasio-Cortez, referencing Kalief Browder, who was arrested in 2010 and remained at Rikers Island for more than three years awaiting trial.
With the upcoming June election for a new Queens District Attorney, Ocasio-Cortez made clear that she will not be endorsing any candidates in the race for office. She suggested that the new Queens DA should be in touch with the community and its concerns, and focusing on being “tough in areas where they should be,” she said.
Ocasio-Cortez further discussed the New Zealand Christchurch mosque shootings and a new sweeping gun safety bill (HRA) recently passed in the House, building awareness of next year’s census, voter suppression, student loan reform and free tuition, and protection of immigrants in the community.
“The less they count us and the more that they try to intimidate our immigrant neighbors from answering the census, that means less resources for our community and less money for schools, roads, bridges and construction,” said Ocasio-Cortez.
The congresswoman will be hosting an upcoming immigration town hall that will be announced soon. She looks forward to working with her district’s community boards and as a close liaison with her constituents.