SEE IT: Queens borough president candidates talk protests, COVID-19 and more in QNS virtual debate

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Screenshot via YouTube/Schneps Media

The five candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for Queens borough president gathered on a virtual stage for a debate hosted by QNS on Thursday, June 11.

Councilmen Donovan Richards and Costa Constantinides, former Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, retired NYPD sergeant Anthony Miranda and businessman Dao Yin shared their views on the recent protests over the death of George Floyd, their plans for the COVID-19 recovery and the direction of development across the borough. 

Protests over the killing of George Floyd

Moderated by Jacob Kaye, the digital editor of QNS; Angélica Acevedo, a QNS reporter; and Karmina Fonseca, the editor-in-chief of El Correo, the debate began with a discussion about the myriad protests sparked by the police killing of Floyd. 

While Richards, Constantinides, Crowley and Miranda all expressed their desire to change the way policing is done in New York City, Yin, who is running on a law and order platform, took a different view. 

“I’m in favor of peaceful protests. However, many of the protests have provoked the police,” Yin said. “The police have tremendous self control.”

Crowley, who doesn’t support defunding the police, advocated for better training and the recruitment of a more diverse police force. 

“Law enforcement in New York City and across the country has, for generations, institutional racism,” Crowley said. “It has plagued law enforcement and we need to do better as a society.” 

Miranda, who spent his career in law enforcement, said that he would advocate for measures to hold the police accountable, including changes to the disciplinary process. 

“There is an opportunity right now, because we have such an awakening of the people, to create the changes we have been long advocating for,” Miranda said. “Police reform is necessary, police accountability, absolutely.”

Richards, the only Black candidate running for the seat, recounted his first negative encounter with the police — being stopped and frisked at the age of 13 — and called for stronger community policing measures, citing the building of a new precinct in his district that will be equipped with a food pantry and a community center. 

“As we talk about merging the relationship between a police department and our communities, one way to do that is to ensure that we can coexist, learn from one another and learn about each other,” Richards said. “We’re not here to condemn an entire department, but we do want to condemn the actions of those who are costing the city $237 million a year in settlement claims.”

Constantinides expressed views most similar to that of the protesters. The councilman spoke about removing the NYPD from schools and from monitoring the turnstiles of subway stations. 

“We’ve been using the police as bandaids when instead we should be de-escalating situations,” Constantinides said. “We need to reimagine not just policing but how our city works.”

The coronavirus recovery process 

Candidates then began to discuss the COVID-19 recovery process. 

Crowley, whose campaign has been focused on getting Queens its “fair share” prior to the coronavirus, said that the borough’s infrastructure is to blame for its high number of cases and that hospitals, housing transportation must be addressed to prevent other disastrous pandemics. 

“We need to put a plan together to attract more private hospitals and to expand our public hospitals, to look at our existing hospitals and expand their bed capacity,” Crowley said. 

Miranda, who has touted his non-politician status the entire campaign, blamed current elected officials in Queens for not mobilizing a cohesive strategy to deal with the pandemic before, during and after. 

He also expressed his disappointment in the inequitable distribution of resources to Queens, and particularly to the Hispanic and low-income communities within the borough. 

“We can’t afford to wait until after something happens to have real conversations about the impact on our community,” Miranda said. “We need to have a borough president that has the fight to represent us.”

Constantinides, who, along with his wife, contracted COVID-19, saw the impact of the crisis up close. 

“There needs to be a long-term plan for the healthcare of Queens. It can’t be building temporary structures,” the Astoria councilman said. “We need to be building long-term structures that are going to be with us in Queens for the long term to serve all of our residents.”

Yin, the only Asian-American in the race, decried the increase in racist attacks against Asians in Queens. He also leaned on his political outsider status, and blamed current elected officials for not fighting for Queens’ healthcare system prior to the COVID-19 crisis. 

“My opponents have been in politics for years and we know that they have received contributions from all types of special interests and that’s why our public health infrastructure is falling apart,” Yin said. “It’s time for new leadership.” 

Richards began by lamenting the loss of Amazon’s HQ2. Had the company come to Queens, he said, more jobs would be available for struggling Queens residents. 

He also mentioned his existing relationships with Governor Andrew Cuomo and the healthcare union, 1199 SEIU – two relationships crucial to improving healthcare in Queens, he said. 

“We’re going to have to leverage our opportunity to push developers to also think about healthcare,” Richards said. 

Development in the borough

With a handful of major development projects in the works, including the Long Island City waterfront, Sunnyside Yards and the LaGuardia AirTrain, the candidates for Queens borough president discussed their stance on the direction of development in the borough. 

Yin focused on his solution for fixing the housing crisis — eliminating tax credits for luxury developments. 

“Those tax credits should go toward low- and middle-income housing,” Yin said. 

Miranda also came after luxury development projects. 

“We need to have a moratorium on all luxury developments right now,” Miranda said. “There are too many projects that have been pushed forward with little to no community input. So we need to go back and make sure the community is being heard.”

Crowley, who’s made a commitment not to take campaign contributions from for-profit real estate development, said the focus needs to shift from luxury development to affordable housing. She also touted her transit plan, which would open up access to Queens, she said. 

“Part of my master plan for Queens is not only developing in the proper areas but also making sure that we have a better transit system,” Crowley said. “That means keeping our express buses in place, making our buses free and taking our existing rail, which is being underutilized, and opening access to over 20 square miles of rail.”

Richards spoke about his success in gathering community support over a development in Far Rockaway, something that often is lacking in New York City. This sort of community engagement in development projects, is something he hopes to implement if elected Queens borough president. 

“When you look at downtown Far Rockaway it’s just the template for what you need to do to accomplish successful development around the borough,” Richards said. 

Constantinides, who did not support the deal New York City made with Amazon, closed out the debate by advocating for a renewed focus on creating real opportunities for everyday Queens residents and not on opportunities for developers. 

“We need to think about the real residents of Queens,” Constantinides said. “The 2.3 million residents of Queens who are hard working, who want better jobs.”

The election for the Democratic primary for Queens borough president will take place on June 23. For more information on the election, click here.