2016-02-10 / Front Page

Katz Addresses Queens Chamber Of Commerce

By Thomas Cogan
Last week, at a Queens Chamber of Commerce breakfast at the La Guardia Marriott Hotel, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz introduced her cabinet and a long roster of personnel from several of the city’s departments. The crowd in attendance filled a dining room of the hotel near the airport.  From her post on the upper dais, Katz also hailed the district managers of the borough’s 14 community boards sitting in the lower dais, and then returned to themes she’ll probably propagate for the rest of her time as borough president:  Queens as the borough of families; as “the place you come to” if you’re an immigrant; and as a tourist destination.  These and such topics as the airports and the interborough ferry were covered in her Queens College address nearly three weeks earlier, but the Marriott address provided updates.  She answered questions too, one of them about the Brooklyn-Queens Connector.

In calling Queens both a tourist destination and the borough that tens of thousands of immigrants have made their destination, Katz recalled her late parents, saying that even decades ago they had visions of great immigration to Queens.  That vision is now emphatically fulfilled, as evidenced in such documentary films as Frederick Wiseman’s In Jackson Heights.  Katz said that immigrants have a transformative effect in bringing much of their old culture to their new home as they also transform themselves within it.  Because of immigration and other issues, the borough president made a case that Queens deserves better consideration when funds are dispensed by state and city administrations and legislatures.  She said she and her office might be regarded as pushy but if it’s necessary, that’s what they’ll be.

She said the borough’s two airports are getting constructive attention.  She’s on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s airport re-design commission, which must achieve great improvement because “We can’t have people coming through our airports and making fun of us,” an almost certain reference to Vice President Joseph Biden’s description of La Guardia Airport as “Third World,” after he went through it last year.  She was enthusiastic that down at John F. Kennedy Airport, the TWA Hotel is being built.  She said that younger persons in the audience might have trouble even remembering Trans-World Airlines, but she remembers it, and the thought of hotel personnel dressed in replicas of the old TWA uniforms and the hotel itself decorated with lots of TWA memorabilia plainly delighted her.  “It’s an exciting time to bring that back,” she said.

The transportation story on or under the ground in Queens and the other boroughs got a contrasting reaction, since she called large parts of the boroughs “a transit desert,” where, for instance, the great subway and elevated system covers only one-third of the territory and bus availability is also lacking for many riders.  She sees the coming of the five-borough ferry system as quite significant, with Metrocards as payment for rides.   

The request that the BP comment about the Brooklyn-Queens Connector came from Vickie Schneps, the publisher.  The BQC plan, announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio in early February, has been described as a trolley line that would run adjacent to waterfront areas for approximately 16-17 miles, from Sunset Park to Astoria.  (The term “trolley” has been dismissed by Katz’s Chief of Staff Jay Bond because it describes an overhead source of electricity.  Schneps actually used the term “light rail system.”  The proposed power source is uncertain.)  The BP said she would like to examine a detailed version of the plan.  She praised   

Mayor de Blasio as “a visionary” for the way he has addressed other matters, such as pre-kindergarten schooling and affordable housing. 

            Attorney Vincent Petraro brought up the stalled drive to build a convention center in Willets Point, just east of Citifield.  She said the first order of business before building a convention center or anything else in Willets Point is to clean up the brownfields of contamination that have formed there through generations of industrial dirty work.  Clean upbefore worrying about the court cases that also impede building plans, she said.  Another man asked if Willets Point might become a “staging area,” either for repairs at La Guardia Airport or for a train-to-the-plane there.

            She got in a few words about the 1964-65 World’s Fair’s New York State Pavilion and the Tower of Tomorrow by saying that those two old structures, having been saved from further deterioration and the likelihood of being torn down, will have lights installed and be illuminated at night by mid-to-late 2017.  Before the breakfast meeting ended, QCC president Thomas J. Grech praised the BP’s office, members of which have been conferring with companies and attempting to persuade them to resist inducements from outside Queens (particularly Connecticut) to relocate.

             Katz’s valedictory declaration was, “I am excited about our future.”





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