Borough president candidates spar over Amazon and community board recommendations at Rockaway Park forum

Photos: Max Parrott/QNS

The borough presidency may be be considered by some as an open-ended “cheerleader” role, but the four Queens borough president candidates stuck to a few consistent themes during a recent Rockaway candidate forum: transit, labor and their relationship with community boards. 

The Good Government, Regular Democratic Club held the forum on Nov. 14 in Beacon Rehab & Nursing Center in Rockaway Park, where Councilmen Jimmy Van Bramer, Costa Constantinides and Donovan Richards and former Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley each took turns giving the peninsula residents their backstory and responding to concerns.

One might have expected Richards, the Rockaway City Council representative, to have the home court advantage in the forum, but the timing of the event would have it otherwise. 

Earlier in the day, the City Council voted in approval of the Edgemere Commons, a transformative 11-building mixed-use complex with over 2,000 units of below-market-rate housing in the heart of the Rockaways — a project that the Rockaway Community Board had voted against. 

One member of Community Board 14 who was present at the forum took it as an opportunity to test the candidates’ loyalty to community boards across the borough, asking each candidate to sign a written pledge to back “any and all” community board recommendations as borough president. 

In the course of addressing the crowd, Crowley and Van Bramer signed the pledge. And, based on a previous conversation with Constantinides, the community member took the liberty of signing the pledge for Constantinides, who arrived late. But once the councilman got there, he made no objection. 

Former Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley signs a pledge to follow “any and all” community board recommendations as borough president.

Confronted with his recent friction with the community board, Richards, on the other hand, refused to sign and criticized his opponents for doing so.

“It’s very important you look at the record of individuals before they sign a pledge like this. There is no council member who agrees with a community board 100 percent of the time,” said Richards. “At the end of the day, we should be mature enough to sit at a table and make plans together.”

During the course of his speech, Richards billed himself as a fiscal leader and dealmaker with a history of bringing economic development projects into his district and access to the levers of power.

“Leadership is not about a popularity contest … Leadership is about being able to cultivate relationships because relationships cultivate results and then leverage the opportunities that come,” he said after declaring his strong relationship with the mayor and governor.

Richards also went on the offensive over Van Bramer’s stance on the Amazon HQ2 deal. After Van Bramer left the forum, Richards called him out for signing two letters of support for Amazon to come into Long Island City before pushing against the project.

In his speech, Van Bramer framed himself as a union-raised dissident who has used his position on the council to stand up to those in power and fight for what he believes is right. 

“What happens when the mayor and governor reach an agreement to the exclusion of any CB involvement-bypassing ULURP altogether? Bypassing all elected officials together? … What I said is that it is not going to happen,” said Van Bramer.

Like Van Bramer, Crowley touted her union roots as a member of the D.C. 9 International Union of Painters and Allied Trades from her previous career as a restorative painter. She described the recurring theme of her campaign as the fight for Queens to receive its fair share of resources.

Constantinides highlighted his environmental platform, explaining that his motivation to run stems from being attuned to the climate crisis. 

“I don’t have to tell anyone on this peninsula what Hurricane Sandy brought. I don’t have to tell anyone here what climate change is doing to our communities — what this could potentially mean for us in the borough of Queens,” Constantinides said.

In addition to their positions on the community board, all of the candidates said they would be open to exploring the reactivation of a long-closed Rockaway branch of the MTA. Even Crowley, who has made the reopening of the Lower Montauk Branch of the LIRR a pet project, said that she thought the two projects could work in concert together.

After the meeting, Constantinides and Van Bramer responded to QNS’s reporting to clarify that they had not meant to agree the exact wording of the pledge, but that they had only meant to indicate their willingness to consider community board recommendations.

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