A Queens community board voted in an overwhelming majority to remove one of its members over allegations that he had “solicited bribes” and engaged in other misconduct.
At its June 14 meeting, Community Board 7 voted 42 to 3 — with one abstention — to approve a resolution continuing with removal proceedings of member to oust City Council candidate John Choe from the body. Choe subsequently accused the advisory panel of assembling a “kangaroo court” which he alleged had intentions of derailing his candidacy for public office.
With a majority approval on the resolution, Board 7 Chairman Eugene Kelty will be responsible for putting together a special committee to do a thorough investigation into the allegations presented.
The Queens Eagle reported that Choe will be allowed counsel and may cross examine any witnesses during the special committee proceedings. The ad hoc committee will then report back to the full board to reconvene for a meeting where the final decision will be made on whether or not to remove Choe.
Late last month, Choe received a formal written notice that the board was considering to propose a motion to move forward with removal proceedings, which was voted on by the executive board made up of Kelty, Chuck Apelian, Warren Schreiber, Frank Macchio and Lei Zhao.
Apelian, who is the first vice chair and chair of the Land Use Committee, filed several allegations against Choe, which included violating the New York City Charter by soliciting campaign funds from board members, creating an unauthorized CB 7 Facebook page showing events tied to the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce of which Choe is the executive director, having a poor attendance record, leaving meetings early and accusing board members of “being corrupt” after they voted in favor of the controversial Special Flushing Waterfront District development.
“This is something that’s been going on for a while. It’s not something that happened a couple weeks ago, a couple of days ago. This is something that’s been going on over a half a dozen different charges, different iterations over the past year or so,” Apelian said. “Every time we work things out, it doesn’t seem to go away.”
Apelian said that Councilman Peter Koo was not going to recommend Choe for community board reappointment, but Queens Borough President Donovan Richards overruled the recommendation and reinstated Choe in April 2021.
“At that point, it just became overbearing to the point that, once again, we had meetings and discussions about it and the executive committee met and decided to proceed. That’s why we’re here today. Nothing more, nothing less,” Apelian said.
According to the City Charter, community boards have the power to remove a member, with cause, using a majority vote. Earlier this month, Richards’ office told QNS that it “will let this process unfold and not interfere.”
“The Queens borough president’s office was originally notified about this action after the Community Board 7 executive board decided to move forward,” said a spokesperson for the Queens borough president’s office.
Kelty and Choe spar
Following the presentation of allegations, Kelty gave Choe the opportunity to defend himself. The two verbally sparred for a few minutes, with Kelty asking if Choe “wanted to take another shot at the chair?” and Choe responding, “Are you gonna let me talk, or are you gonna keep interrupting?”
“This is a kangaroo court you’re instituting right before my election. I don’t understand why it took so long for you to come up with these absurd charges against me because these ‘allegations’ took place months and years ago,” said Choe, who is running for City Council in District 20. “For you to put this on agenda right before my election, I have a deep concern about, not just as a community board member but as a private citizen, that public resources are being used for political purposes.”
The City Council hopeful added that the proceedings were “an embarrassment to the community board system” and that the charges against him were baseless claims with no backing evidence.
One of the allegations claimed that Choe said his “vote could be bought” at a Queens borough president’s Land Use meeting in February 2020. But Choe said that his testimony at that meeting was to ask for more affordable housing, public parks and schools for the community.
A public defense
But some at Monday’s meeting called into question the ethics of continuing with removal proceedings. Board member Cody Herrmann, who voted “no” in regards to continuing with the removal process, called the situation “an abuse of authority” and said that some of the allegations were “misconstrued.”
The two other “no” votes came from Choe and board member Harpreet Singh Wahan.
Community member Laura Shepard said that the removal proceedings were “grossly mishandled and highly inappropriate” and spoke in defense of Choe’s character.
“John Choe is an upstanding member of the community and a tireless advocate,” Shepard said. “I do not believe that any of this is fair or justified.”
Shepard added that she had watched the February 2020 Land Use meeting and recalled that Choe had not asked for a bribe in exchange for his vote but rather “500 units of affordable housing and a fair EIS (environmental impact statement).”
“That is not corruption. That is not soliciting a bribe. This whole thing is nonsense and shame on all of you who voted ‘yes’ to it,” she said.
Members of Community Board 7 have engaged in controversial behavior in the past, but were not subject to expulsion from the advisory body.
A video of Kelty from a February 2020 board meeting resurfaced on Twitter showing the chairman lunging at a young woman at a public meeting about the Flushing Waterfront District development.
In 2019, Streetsblog reported on board member Kim Ohanian’s controversial comments that pedestrians “deserve to get run over” if they cross the street while looking at their phone. Richards, after initially criticizing Ohanian’s comments, reappointed her to the board earlier this year.
UPDATE (2:15 p.m. on June 21): Frank Macchio has been appointed chair of a special committee to investigate the removal charges against Choe. Warren Schreiber, Lei Zhao, Barbara McHugh and Betsy Mak complete the committee. The committee hearing date is set for July 20.