Most Queens City Council members vote in favor of city’s budget, five vote ‘no’

Photo by Dean Moses

Nine of the 15 members of the Queens delegation to the New York City Council voted in support of Tuesday’s city budget, which, after more than a month of protests over police violence against Black people, saw cuts to the NYPD’s funding. 

For those who voted against the budget, the cuts were either not enough or way too much. Nowhere was the divide in opinions more apparent than in the Queens council members’ votes.

Of the five members who voted against the budget, two members, Robert Holden and Eric Ulrich, Queens’ only Republican city councilman, said the cuts were too deep. The other three members who voted “no” are considered to be some of the more progressive members representing Queens in the City Council, including Jimmy Van Bramer, Antonio Reynoso and Donovan Richards. They said the cuts didn’t go far enough. 

“The people have demanded a real, $1 billion cut to the NYPD, but also a reimagining of public safety in this city,” Van Bramer said. “Sadly, the most historic part of this budget is how it fails to meet the moment.”

The conservative council members couldn’t see the budget more differently. 

“These deep cuts to the NYPD budget are just insane,” Ulrich said. “While gun violence and murder skyrocketed, the mayor and Council are catering to the demands of left-wing extremists who aim to completely dismantle the NYPD.”

This year’s $88.1 billion budget was an unusual one. Facing revenue troubles caused by the COVID-19 crisis and a global movement demanding significant changes to policing, including a $1 billion cut to the NYPD’s $6 billion budget, many members of the city’s legislative body said last night’s vote was the most challenging vote they’d ever cast.

“This was an immensely difficult budget to pass,” said Daniel Dromm, who voted in favor of the budget. “The Council was presented with painful decisions, but we never lost sight of our progressive priorities or vision for New York City. To the thousands of New Yorkers who so admirably fought for budget justice over the past several weeks: We heard you and we stand with you.”

The NYPD’s budget was reduced by $967 million, just shy of the $1 billion figure demanded by activists. Of the total reduction, $430 million was cut and $537 million was shifted from the NYPD’s capital budget toward other city programs, including the Summer Youth Program, which Mayor Bill de Blasio initially proposed eliminating from the budget entirely. 

“We must remember that police reform did not begin nor end with this budget,” said I. Daneek Miller, who voted in favor of the budget. “To believe that would be to dismiss the work of my colleagues in important police reform. It would certainly dismiss the important legislation just passed by this Council and our colleagues in Albany. Understand that these reforms occurred by engagement and thoughtful discourse.”

Adrienne Adams, Barry Grodenchik, Peter Koo, Karen Koslowitz, Francisco Moya, Paul Vallone, Miller and Dromm each voted “aye” on the budget.

However, activists and their allies in the City Council say the reduction in the NYPD’s budget doesn’t truly address the issues demonstrators have tirelessly marched for following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. 

“In calling for cuts to the NYPD’s budget, $1 billion was always an arbitrary number,” Reynoso said. “What we are really pleading for is an end to a system of policing that discriminates based on economic status, race, religion, gender and sexual orientation, and an investment in the supports and services that will offer the opportunity for success to all New Yorkers.”

Conservative council members said that the recent uptick in murders and other crimes makes this a poor time to make cuts to the police department. 

“As one of very few Council members who has lived through several crime waves in our great city, I am very concerned that the protest-driven movement to defund the NYPD will lead us toward another high-crime era,” Holden said. “While the intention of diverting more funds toward education and services for those who need it most sounds noble, supporters of this movement seem to be unaware of the billions this city has already wasted with no tangible results.”

Queens was missing one of the more progressive voices in the City Council on Tuesday – Costa Constantinides. 

The Astoria councilman missed the late night vote because of complications due to COVID-19, which he contracted back in late March.

As the City Council voted 32-17 in favor of the budget, Constantinides was in Mount Sinai Queens hospital’s emergency room. 

“Last night I was once again forced to go to the hospital with complications from COVID-19. This hasn’t been the first time since I contracted the virus in late March,” said Constantinides, who represents Astoria and Long Island City. “You don’t know how frustrating this has been, as I want to fully focus on my job. But breathing is at times difficult, especially as the weather gets hotter.”

Constantinides, a candidate in the still-unofficial Queens borough president Democratic primary race, didn’t indicate how he would have voted, although he expressed a desire to change how the NYPD operates. 

“While I was not able to make a stand last night, I am committed to using whatever time I have left in the Council to fight for a scaled-down police department,” Constantinides said. 

Additional reporting by Angélica Acevedo.

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