As with any politician, I have ideas, hopes, and dreams for our community, visions for a new tomorrow, that still respectfully harkens back to the rich history and past that remains in the minds of so many residents throughout Forest Hills, Rego Park, Kew Gardens and Richmond Hill.
The Renaissance of Our Streets:
Improving Quality of Life
The Re-Birth of Queens Boulevard: Pedestrian malls, new plant beds, New lighting and True safety improvements for pedestrians, motorists, and cyclists alike.
I was recently saddened to read in the New York Times that in 2019, more cyclists were killed last year than in any year in two decades, including a child who had received his bicycle on his 8th birthday. Such tragic loss of life was easily avoidable; Families of these victims, whom will now forever have one empty chair in their homes, are owed an explanation and promises that these deaths were not in vain.
It occurs to me that Vision Zero has been a fairly effective program, and that it makes our city a safer place. Karen Koslowitz did not support (and effectively halted) the Phase 4 roll-out of Vision Zero on Queens Boulevard. I feel this is a huge mistake. Close to 30 cyclists were killed in New York in 2019 alone. The section of Queens Boulevard that has not been implemented would have completed additional bicycle lanes, added new, badly-needed cross-walks, and other pedestrian improvements throughout the Forest Hills and Kew Gardens. The safety of cyclists and pedestrians, particularly our children and our seniors, must come first over any motorist. Remember, the motorist is only a motorist until he or she exits the vehicle, and then the motorist becomes a pedestrian, whose safety is just as important. However, the bike lanes should take the place of one of the 'express' lanes, to stop parking spaces from being taken by those who truly have no other means of practical transport.
To alleviate the parking problem, the solution is clear: For too long, residents of Nassau County and from far-flung parts of Queens have driven their cars into Forest Hills, Kew Gardens, Richmond Hill, and Rego Park, taken the free spaces used by residents, and hopped on the subway, leaving their vehicles to linger for 8 hours. No longer. As in other cities like Chicago, Denver, and Los Angeles, permits will be issued that prevent people from outside the district from taking parking away from people who live there. If they want access to the area, they need to do the right thing and pay for their parking, or otherwise take public transportation in. This will not only solve parking issues in neighborhoods where it has gotten out of hand, but it will actually encourage public transportation and walking, instead of driving.
Other major cities like Chicago and Los Angeles have had zoning parking permits for years, allowing citizens within their own neighborhoods to park freely and easily within their district.
I plan to support a 'rebirth' of Queens Boulevard, one where beautiful pedestrian malls with flowers and shrubs supplant our current offering of asphalt, with new plant beds, new classically-designed lighting and true safety improvements for pedestrians, motorists, and cyclists alike. This was planned in the Queens Boulevard 'Great Streets' capital improvement project, which seems to have completely stalled. Our district is the heart of Queens, and thus is its core, its source of spirit. Should our main drag not reflect this? Should it not reflect our pride in our community? The DOT can build the plant beds, our proud and mindful civic organizations can volunteer to do the rest.
This is what Queens Boulevard once looked like.
I ask you, why can't it look this way again?
I am in support of the New York City Transit Authority's efforts to redesign the Queens Bus Network, with a significant caveat; I ask that the Transit Authority patiently listen to citizens' ideas and concerns throughout our borough before implementing the plans, and that no cuts in frequency be made; If our system is to to work, it must be accessible, affordable, and reliable. Unfortunately, the current plan improves some routes, while making egregiously bad cuts to service on others, which disproportionately affects our Seniors and the disabled, who rely on our bus network.
For example, I was excited for the proposed move of the Q60 bus to the 'express' lanes of Queens Boulevard, which will substantially improve travel times for the denizens of our community; However, this same change removes all Manhattan service, which is a non-starter for many residents, myself included. The MTA must consider and address these concerns before drawing up new routes. I am happy to see the plan finally establishes long-overdue local service along Yellowstone Boulevard. Climate change is a threat to all of humanity, and any improvements to our public transportation network more attractive to the public are heartily welcomed; But the if the MTA neglects to speak with the everyday riders of the system, significant progress cannot be made.
The redesign provides completely new routes that will result in faster and more convenient travel for people throughout our district, including long-overdue bus service on Yellowstone Boulevard, as shown here; However, the MTA needs to make better outreach efforts to gather how the routes can be improved; I suggest the MTA hire agents who will ride each and every bus route in Queens, and speak to the riders directly.
Reducing Corruption - Recall Elections:
I fully support establishing recall elections, statewide, in partnership with our legislators in Albany. Many states throughout our nation allow them, yet New York lives in the past. New York is one of only 10 states to not permit recall elections on any level whatsoever, including local elections. It is my opinion that Mayor de Blasio has proven himself to be the most unpopular and ineffectual mayor in over 30 years. Despite this, he announced his candidacy for President and, in essence, abandoned our city. He is no longer doing the job that he is well compensated for.
Again, despite all of this, Mayor de Blasio cannot be recalled due to the fact that we do not permit recall elections here in New York. This must be changed. Refusing to rectify this oversight can lead to a egregious lack of accountability, and ultimately, eases the way for corruption in our City.
Politicians should not be treated differently than any other individual on planet Earth; they are neither Gods nor Kings; People who don’t do their jobs in the private sector get fired. Why not a publicly elected official? Recall elections will ensure the politicians behave themselves and follow the will of the people, as democracy commands them to do. If a politician has bold visions for our city or our community, then he or she should take the time to convince the citizenry that it is a good idea!
20 States have some kind of mechanism to be able to recall their governors; and 61% of municipalities have the ability to recall their locally elected officials. Why cannot New York do the same?
Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, and Texas all have state-wide ‘Resign-To-Run’ laws on the books. This means that if one is currently elected to public office, in order to officially declare candidacy for another open position in government, they must either resign their current position, or wait to finish out their elected term in their current position. As the old adage says: “No man can serve two masters,” and politicians should be held to this standard. Personal ambition cannot supersede public responsibilities. This law will prevent future politicians from skirting their duties to run for higher office.
Establishing a Resign-to-Run Law:
In addition to the reforms above which helps democracy shine brighter in our corner of the world, I personally promise to the community that I will be donating 15% of my annual salary back into programs which help our community, specifically with a focus on our Parks and Schools. My motivation to run is not for greed, or for power, but to improve the lives of each and every citizen. The goal of public office should not be to satisfy an individual's thirst for power, but to provide for a better, safer, and prouder community for all of us.
A Pledge of Incorruptibility and a Return to Ethics:
Many municipalities operate 'Quiet Cars' in their transportation systems; From the MetroLink in Los Angeles, to our MTA's own Metro-North and Long Island Railroad, the 'Quiet Car' allows commuters to sit in a quiet, peaceful environment after a long stressful day. Some people simply aren't in the mood for 'Showtime'. I propose instituting Quiet Cars on all New York City Subway trains; We can simply designate the first car of each train as the quiet car, enforcement will be provided by the police, the conductor, and of course, any MTA staff.
A Calmer Commute: Quiet Cars
New, Contextual Development:
I am personally in favor of new development that is contextual and true-to-character for the neighborhood. While many fear density in our neighborhoods, density is not necessarily an enemy; As our families age and grow, the rising costs of living in New York City mean our friends, neighbors and loved ones get pushed further and further out. We need to making staying a viable option for them.
New developments should be made to look as if they were always meant to be there. The concept here is simple; Build up, not out, and built brilliantly, not blandly. We are responsible for creating a sense of place, of places our next generation will cherish for years to come. This is the secret to the inevitable development of our community. I propose a new bill requiring that new developments to our neighborhood be contextual, not only to zoning regulations, but to the aesthetic style and architecture of our community, with final approval voted on by members of the community. Something should be built for the generations to come to admire, not something that is meant to be slapped up cheaply whilst the developers walk away, pockets lined.
It seems these days one cannot walk down the street in our neighborhood without noticing someone who is homeless. And why has this sudden uptick occurred? I will pose to you my personal theory: These individuals you see, not only are they just homeless in many instances, but also mentally ill. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, anywhere from 20% to 25% of homeless people have severe mental illness. The fact that these innocent souls are left to aimlessly wander the street is both a disservice to the public at large, but also a cruel neglect of one's fellow human being who is suffering.
According to the New York Times, there are only about 14 psychiatric beds per every 100,000 people in the United States. This represents a 95 percent decline from the 1950's. New calls to increase the number of beds and providing modern psychiatric assisted living facilities taken hold in recent years, and I am adamant that such a resolution occur. As a councilman, I would support and sponsor a new program in which mental health facilities would reopen and expand to properly treat these lost souls, with an emphasis on societal integration and the least restrictive level of care possible. It seems as if we’ve taken a step back as a society: While many mentally ill individuals in the 1940’s would permanently wind up in mental institutions, where most would live a dignified, albeit confined, existence, many today wind up instead in prison or sleeping on park benches. This inhumanity must cease. I ask that the public consider a new, modern equivalent, like long-term structured residences to help our neediest population.
Helping Our Homeless:
I would rather tie my body to the bulldozer beginning the project rather than see a jail go up in our neighborhood. The $10 Billion price tag alone, or $2 Million per jail cell built, is absolutely ludicrous. This atrocity, planned with zero community input or consent just goes to show how boldly the de Blasio administration will go for the sake of idealism, rather than realism. Criminal Justice Reform in the form of the ‘FIRST STEP’ Act has just passed; One of its main goals is to reduce recidivism. Despite this, and giving the law no time to actually see its results, the jail plan continues. This multibillion dollar atrocity is nothing short of a disaster. While the latest budget has delayed the start of this project, its authorization to proceed remains on the books.
Our politicians have failed those jailed, as well as the communities at large. Because it would be politically unpopular, the council passed the bill authorizing the borough-based jail system without any contingencies. The worst attrocities that come out of Rikers Island have nothing to do with the structure of the building, or it’s location. It is a select few prison guards who violate the rights of those behind bars, and do not receive punishment. There are DOC guards, still in uniform, who have violated prisoner's rights against "Cruel and unusual punishment," who have never been prosecuted for such violations, since the statute of limitations had expired. Why did the council not pass the bill with contingencies requiring guards to undergo retraining, and a 'lookback' window allowing those who broke the law to be prosecuted for their crimes?
According to the late Queens District Attorney, Richard A. Brown, “Of the approximately 8,000 inmates on Rikers, 1,800 of them are sentenced prisoners, 2,000 are remanded with no bail and 1,000 are parole violators.”
About 3,000 of the remaining prisoners are being held solely on bail. Fully 92% of them are charged with felonies. They average five felony arrests, one prior felony conviction, five misdemeanor arrests, five misdemeanor convictions and several bench warrants. Forty percent of the inmates from Queens have already been considered for, or been through, various alternative sentencing programs, apparently without success.”
Having this 19 story looming prison would be catastrophic for us, both for property value and quality of life. But there is one thing the administration is correct about... We could use a 19 story building in Kew Gardens; There is a far better use for a 19 story structure, as far as I can see, and that is affordable housing.
The Borough-Based Jail Plan:
I believe that our seniors, veterans, and those disabled should be given preferential treatment for new subsidized housing projects, allowing them to stay in the neighborhoods they've lived in for many years. This will ensure that they will always be able to walk the streets they've always called home. I propose the same site where the 19 story jail is planned to be built be instead be handed over to a private developer who could build a large apartment complex. This developer could make his profit, but still establish, through 421a programs, that 20% of all apartments go to low-income individuals. And, in this case, specifically give preference to our seniors, our veterans, and those disabled who are longtime members of our community; Those who were born, live, or grew up in Kew Gardens, Rego Park, or Forest Hills would qualify for preferential housing at a lower than average rate. This will allow affordable housing for those who wish to stay in our beloved community. The community would vote on the style and design of the building to be built; In the vein of contextual development, They would have final say on what it would look like, and whether it is contextual to the spirit of the community. They would have full power to vote and reject any design that diminishes or demeans the history and spirit of Kew Gardens.
Affordable Housing For Our Seniors, Veterans, and the Disabled:
Saving Our Small Businesses:
Our small businesses are a precious resource. They make our neighborhoods a unique and special place. They give character, they give life. Our small businesses are truly special.
However, it seems that nowadays, greed gets in the way of the small business owner being able to prosper. In recent years, all too often in our city, storefronts sit empty due to the greed of the property owner looking to remove the small business in order to collect more rent. I was personally saddened to see the loss of Ben's Best on Queens Boulevard, a place where three generations of my family came together to eat many times over the years. These are more than delis and bodegas; These places are memories.
We are currently in talks with the Small Business Congress, we support their current legislation before the City Council, and together we will save our small businesses. We will save the local jobs they create. We will save the commerce they bring. We will save the character that they weave into our communities. I support the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, and you should too!
Two months of an increase crime have demonstrated that bail reform laws implemented by Albany have simply gone too far. The list of offenses that a judge cannot set bail for, in my opinion, should be misdemeanors which do not produce physical harm or potential physical harm to person nor property. The legislation produced goes way too far. Year-over-year crime in January and February 2020 has risen by over 20%, with the exception being a drop in murder and rape.
Under the current Bail Reform Laws, judges cannot set bail except for the most egregious of violations. An individual can be accused of the following crimes and not be held on bail: criminal obstruction of breathing, menacing, 3rd, 4th and 5th degree arson, assisting in female genital mutilation, promoting a suicide attempt, obstructing governmental services with a bomb, 1st degree stalking while committing a sex offense, reckless assault of a child... the list simply goes on and on.
While I understand the intent of the bail-reform law was not to penalize low-income individuals accused of a crime, not allowing judges to hold individuals who potentially pose a physical threat to the public was a huge mistake. You don't need to be a pyrotechnic investigator to understand those who could potentially commit arson can cause a lot of harm to a lot of people. New Jersey implemented its bail-reform law over a year ago with far better results; The difference was this key provision was included in New Jersey's law.
The Legislature has recently amended the list of crimes applicable under this law, but disallowing an individual judge's final say remains a huge issue. Allowing individuals who can cause public harm to walk the streets again creates potential chaos, and can make victims of such crimes feel unsafe. As councilman, I would ask that our fellow Democrats in Albany take a new look at the bail reform laws and adjust them accordingly.
Bail Reform Laws
Education: The Investment For Our Children's Future
Our economy has been impacted by the recent COVID-19 pandemic, and because of this, countless government sectors have faced budget cuts. One of the sectors most impacted is, as always, education. I am particularly sensitive to this issue as 3 generations of my family have worked as New York City public schoolteachers, including my great-aunt, my mother and my wife.
Chancellor Carranza announced to teachers on July 1st that, in conjunction with the City Council, $400 million shall be cut from the NYC public school budget for the fiscal year 2020-2021. Due to this cut, there will be a hiring freeze until further notice, which means that any vacant positions will not be backfilled. There shall be reduction in schools Per Session budget which will reduce the amount of ongoing ‘Professional Development’ that teachers receive throughout the school year. It also means that the amount of after-school enrichment programs, services, and support that our tireless teachers typically are able to provide to students, shall too be cut. For those of you familiar with it, the Schools-Out NYC (SONYC) after-school program, an excellent resource for students from 6th through 8th grades, shall also fall victim to these cuts. There will also be reduction to centrally administered school support initiatives such as the Teaching Fellows, a program that trains hundreds of college graduates and career-changers to teach Mathematics, Science and Special Education in high-need schools. After proposing to cut the funding for certain social work positions, the City Council has thankfully decided to restore their positions for one more year, making sure our most vulnerable students have someone to turn to in a time of personal crisis.
If our children are truly the future of our nation, then we must do all we can to give them the best education possible to become productive members of society. This is why I am proposing that we restore the budget that has been cut back to our public schools to continue these programs that have been cut. A report from the New York City Department of Education Report on Guidance Counselors released on February 15th, 2019 states that there is a ratio of 1 counselor to 333 students in public schools. This is an inanely disproportionate student-to-counselor ratio. How do we expect counselors to effectively do their jobs with such a high case load of students to worry about? This is why I am further proposing an increase in the hiring of school counselors, so that we can change the ratio to 1 Counselor to a reasonable 100 students.
These programs can easily be paid for by simply diverting the $10 Billion planned for Riker’s Island jail replacements directly into the educational system. To reduce crime, we must reduce poverty. That is fundamentally the key. $10 Billion should not be spent to lock up people (mostly of color) who are damned from the start by an underfunded educational system with overworked teachers and staff.
My aunt, Edith, teaching at the High School of Art & Design in Manhattan.
My mother, Gloria, with her students at P.S. 28.
The Black Lives Matter Movement & Fair Policing In New York:
Over the past few weeks, I have reflected over the death of George Floyd, and the Black Lives Matter movement. I am struck by and deeply touched by all of those who have united nationally and internationally in peaceful protest to ensure that this man shall not have died in vain. I am further encouraged by the fact that there are police officers in New York, and across the country have demonstrated both sympathy and compassion for George Floyd, and condemnation for those who inflicted such a senseless death upon this man. Their response has been, thus far, beyond expectations. But the question still remains: How many men must suffer, must die, until we can all reach a place of peace and mutual understanding? When will we work together to build a better tomorrow?
Whether Mr. Floyd was guilty or not of this crime is irrelevant. His past is irrelevant. Indeed, the very details of his life are entirely irrelevant. He was an American citizen; And he was denied his rights. He was denied his day in court. He was denied a trial by a jury of his peers. He was denied a defense. Moreover, and most abominably, he was denied life-giving oxygen. The right to breathe. Over a matter of $20 and a pack of cigarettes. How can one not be outraged that something so wrong be allowed to occur in America?
Mr. George Floyd,
An Unarmed Man Who Did Not Live To See His Day in Court.
We have a system of justice in this country. A good one, I was taught. An honorable one, I’d like to think. We are ‘innocent until proven guilty’. However, when renegade officers violate the trust given to them by the public; When these individuals step outside the bounds of mere enforcement of the law, and choose to become judge, jury and executioner in a matter of minutes, Our revered system of justice instantaneously molders into one of chaos: A system without justice is one built on a bedrock of cruelty, apathy and misery.
Renegade officers exist. There are overzealous individuals out there who do a great disservice to the many venerable and good officers whom I’ve been honored to meet over the course of my short life. These are the officers who risk their lives to protect us, and investigate crimes each and every day. We must recognize the hard-work and sacrifice of 99% of the police force who are 'good cops' if we are to condemn the 1% who are 'bad cops' abusing their authority. To the millions of officers worldwide, to those fine individuals who live with strict personal codes of honor, thank you.
However, it is my sad obligation to say that the laws that protect these honorable men and women just doing their jobs, also provide them with ‘room for interpretation’ when performing their duties. And these laws are abused by officers with a personal penchant for brutality and a rush to judgement.
Even here, in the great State of New York, we have had a law on the books for decades known as "50-A", which prevents the public from viewing police records, and thus the complaints made against police officers. I commend the Legislature of the State of New York and Governor Cuomo for their repeal of the law known as “50-A” which has finally allowed officers' records to be open to the public’s review for the first time in decades. This is a critical first step to snuff out unfairness and increase responsible policing in our own backyards. Nationally, I pray that other jurisdictions shall choose to stop for a moment and truly listen to the public. That they finally decide to pass laws and repeal others as part of a grand effort to reduce police brutality, and to stop these ‘bad actors’ from walking the streets. Some officers, and some police unions may resist this. And I say to those people, “If you have nothing to hide, then what is the harm?”
I argue further steps need to be taken, including the de-militarization of the the police that has ramped up dramatically nationwide since the 1980's. We also need to shift our mindset to a 'community-based' policing model, which has officers walking their beats, and becoming familiar with members of the community, building a sense of trust for both the officers and the denizens of that community. This concept has been very successful in reforming police departments in neighborhoods like Camden, New Jersey. I am 100% in favor of the proposed law which would require officers to live within New York City. A precinct residency requirement could also potentially be employed. This would require that a certain percentage of officers in each precinct also live in that same precinct. This way, individual officers would become intimately familiar with that neighborhood's citizens and its recurring problems; Therefore these officers thus would be uniquely experienced when helping to find peaceful resolutions and improving quality-of-life for his or her neighbors.
We’ve come a long way as a society, yes, but there is so much more work to be done! If there’s anywhere in America where a new and unprecedented level of human understanding can start, it is here in Queens, the more diverse county in the United States. Please join me in working to finally halt the racial injustices and systematic racism that continues to stain our nation. Please join the movement in working to extend true equal justice under the law to the black community in our country for the first time in our lives.
With a combination of candid, honest self-reflection, and a true and sincere commitment to change what is broken in our society, we can finally achieve an age where the Eric Garner's, Philando Castile's, and the George Floyd's of the future can walk around freely without fear of unjust persecution. Where all citizens have their fair day in court. It is only on that day that we can truly say we live in a country where there is liberty and justice for all. Black Lives Do Matter.