City Council Candidates Debate
A debate among the three candidates running for the 22nd City Council District seat—Peter Vallone Jr., the incumbent, Lynne Serpe, running on the Green Party line, and Populist Party candidate Gerald F. Kann—drew some 150 area residents and community members to Riccardo’s by the Bridge on Monday night, October 19. The debate was sponsored by the Queens Gazette and moderated by Tony Barsamian, Queens Gazette publisher.
In her introductory remarks, Serpe allowed that she was “nervous that we can’t afford four more years of the same”. Serpe stated that the primary focuses of her platform are largely environmental, and include a desire for legislation for clean air and water. She would also push for seven-day library service and has issues with extending term limits. In his opening, Kann stated that he wanted to “shake things up”, make government more democratic and give the people more say. “You are the bosses,” he said. “I am the employee.” Vallone declared: “This election is about the future of the community,” and added that public schools, the environment and public safety are his major concerns.
The floor was opened to questions from the audience, with the first addressing improving the quality of life for seniors. Kann pledged monthly meetings for public input. Serpe stressed how important seven-day library access is for senior citizens, and how cuts in mass transit will negatively affect Access-a-Ride, a transportation system on which many seniors depend. She also stressed the importance of making sure seniors are provided with healthy food and would restore lunch programs. Vallone commented that seniors built Astoria and that he has helped build more senior housing than anyone. He claimed that the mayor has cut funding and that he has helped restore it.
On the issue of improving street life, Vallone and Serpe both wanted to see a pedestrian plaza at 30th Avenue and Newtown Road and Kann would increase fines for people who litter. On education, Vallone, with two children in public school, has fought the mayor on budget cuts, disagrees with teaching to the test and feels that kids have too much homework. Serpe agreed that kids are over-stressed with standardized testing and feels that healthy lunches are important in schools, as well as is learning about recycling and gardening, work that she does with youth at the Two Coves Community Garden. Kann wants to restore community school boards, to which only parents would be eligible to run. He also believes that privatizing education is wrong.
Graffiti was another issue of concern. Kann was in favor of building more community centers to give kids a sense of a future in their community. Serpe also would fund more community centers and after school programs, and mentioned the graffiti cleanup work she has done with the 114th Civilian Observation Patrol (Civ-OP). She would plan to provide a database so that approval could be gotten in advance from property owners and cleanup could happen more quickly and efficiently. Vallone said that he has been the primary champion for the cause against graffiti, that he passed a law against allowing the unauthorized purchase of etching acid, and that roll down gates on businesses must be replaced with see-through gates, preventing graffiti and beautifying neighborhoods.
On the question of the infrastructure keeping pace with development, Serpe, a board member of the Long Island City Alliance, a development watchdog group, said that the group had pushed for the downzoning initiative now under way in Astoria, one that is supported by Peter Vallone. She stated that overdevelopment impacts the environment negatively and she would widen the environmental impact review to include a clean air study. Vallone commented that the downzoning effort will not allow for out-of-character development and will help the infrastructure. Kann felt the question should be how the community can keep pace with development and stated that homeowners should have a vote in new development projects.
On the issue of local businesses and the local economy, Kann said he believes in small business loans distributed through a competitive system. Serpe maintained that rents are too high for businesses. She supports an immigrant entrepreneurship program and stated that green businesses, especially those thriving on 31st Avenue, are excellent business models. Vallone said he wants the city to stop harassing private businesses.
Concerning a desire to have more programs in parks and for the public, Vallone held that the July fireworks and concert in Astoria Park couldn’t happen without his funding. Kann wants grass instead of asphalt in the parks and Serpe stressed park maintenance.
All the candidates expressed their love of the Astoria community, its diversity, proximity to the East River and Manhattan, the small shops and unique feeling and wonderful people here. In his closing remarks, Vallone stated that he had been honored and privileged to serve this community, but that the job isn’t done. Kann commented that this country needs a new political party and that there should be more anger about the current system and the fact that term limits had been overturned. Serpe expressed hope for the future, wanted to see all people able to walk down the street without being harassed because of race or sexual preference and would work to make the community safer and more sustainable.