When Mayor Bill de Blasio made his way down into Forest Hills for a town hall on Wednesday, he waded into a section of Queens that has been an epicenter of simmering discontentment for the last several months.
The signs of protest were evident outside the where angry constituent rallied over the opening of the Glendale homeless shelter and the policies of Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza. As de Blasio made his way into the JHS 190 Russell Sage gymnasium to join Councilwoman Karen Koslwotiz, boos drowned out applause from the audience.
During the forum, which lasted more than two hours, constituents made repeat complaints over borough-based jail plan, bail reform legislation, the southeast Queens school diversity plan and the Glendale shelter.
Beyond Forest Hills residents — who continue to be upset about the Borough-based jail that is coming to their neighborhood — de Blasio was confronted with neighboring Glendale residents over the homeless shelter that welcomed its first tenants last Friday on Cooper Avenue.
“It is just disgusting that you have shoved a homeless shelter in my neighborhood,” said one angry constituent, who accused the mayor of making backroom deals in approving the project.
The moment gave the mayor a rare opportunity to address community members who had been regularly rallying against the proposal, up until its very recent opening. He started by calling the allegation against him “false.”
“You hate us, de Blasio,” interrupted another audience member.
“The bottom line here is that we have people who are just like everyone in this who are working people who lost their homes,” said hizzoner.
Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Steven Banks then stepped in to emphasize that the new shelter would serve only people from Queens and that goal of the facility is to help stabilize residents who have a job — “a place where people are going to be warehoused.”
That was just the not end of neighborhood safety concerns at the meeting. Confronted twice about the fear that bail reform was leading to an uptick in crime, de Blasio called the talking point a form of “right-wing propaganda.”
When it came to integration plan for School District 28 — which spans from Forest Hills and Rego Park to Jamaica and Richmond Hill — residents argued both for and against the proposal.
After the city announced that it would be extending the process for the diversity plan earlier that day, Community Education Council 28 President Vijah Ramjattan entreated the mayor to scrap the plan completely and start over. He was unhappy with the makeup of the working group selected to consult
“Let’s vote as a community for who we want to represent us,” said Ramjattan.
De Blasio recommended that they add more community representation to the working group. “I would suggest a hybrid,” he said.
The topic of education sparked an outburst when Queens parent David Rem asked the mayor to fire Carranza, whom he called “racist” toward the city’s Asian population.
De Blasio called the comment a mischaracterization. “There are people who disagree with his policies,” he said, referring to Carranza’s attempt to ban specialized high school admissions tests, which sparked accusations of racial discrimination.
As Rem continued to speak over the mayor, he was ejected from the town hall by security.
After the speaker, Edwin Wong repeated the sentiment that the Asian community had lost trust in the chancellor as a result of his specialized high school proposal, the mayor took a more conciliatory approach.
“I want to have a dialogue. How do we fix it together?” said de Blasio. “I’m saying in front of you, I’m sorry for any misstep we made.”