Speaker Corey Johnson comes to Astoria

Astoria City Councilman Costa Constantinides, middle, Speaker Corey Johnson, right.

The first thing City Council Speaker Corey Johnson wanted the crowd to know was that he is openly HIV positive and has been sober for nine years. The first thing Council Member Costa Constantinides wanted us to know was that the school we were in, P.S. 171, is getting solar panels that he allocated from the city budget.

Unlike the mayor’s town hall I went to in LIC last year, there wasn’t a line outside when I got there. I was only 15 minutes early but the auditorium did fill up eventually. Someone asked if I RSVP’d, and I wondered who actually does that.

Constantinides listed funds he brought to Mount Sainai Hospital and the library and other things which I didn’t write down. He said Johnson is not just a colleague but “really is my friend.” CoJo in return said Constantinides is “a leader who really gets it.” He said his colleague, chair of the environmental committee, brought $26 million to west of 21st Street, including the $2.5 million for the solar panels.

There was one big drama that took up a lot of the outset of the forum, which came from tenants of the Acropolis Gardens, a large condo building up on Ditmars Boulevard and 33rd Street. The 600-plus unit building is facing foreclosure as of last Monday after its board missed a payment.

Claudia Coger, president of the Astoria Houses Tenants Association.

The most impassioned outcry came from Claudia Coger, president of the NYCHA Astoria Houses Tenants Association. Ms. Coger made the case that as lots of money and development comes to Northwestern Queens now, there aught to be a community center, a place where kids could be safe. She wants, it sounded like, a new, physical building. Aside from the specificity of the request, its link to the rapid growth of the area (along with some, perhaps implied, youth issues at public housing) was probably the most meta statement at the town hall.

A complaint about the ferry stood out. A woman said that she’s been using the new ferry, which launches from the Astoria Houses, but that she faces so much harassment at night, coming and going, that unless more lighting is installed, or something, she’ll go back to taking the train. Another woman backed her up and said 27th Avenue needs more lighting. Someone previously said the ferry should also go directly across the river to East. 90th Street.

Apparently, we have a problem with an excess of phone cables in Astoria, which Johnson connected to “a franchise issue.”

One woman stood up and made a heated rallying cry to save parking. She complained that a municipal parking lot (it was assumed she meant the lot by Broadway and 31st Street) is going to be developed for housing, therefore, more people, less parking. Corey Johnson rejected that complaint because Constantinides is trying to get has allocated money for* affordable senior citizen housing there. The Astoria councilman said his district is number one in seniors on a waiting list for affordable housing.

Another person complained about all the hotels that are being converted into homeless shelters and said, “Astoria is not the answer to the New York City homeless problem.” CoJo mentioned neighborhoods with major shelter controversies, such as Blissville, Bed-Stuy and his district in Chelsea, but said he hadn’t heard about the issue in Astoria. Me neither. The Westway Motel, up in the area I’ve heard called “Deep Ditmars,” was converted into a long term shelter in 2014, a contract which ends next year. If there aren’t more conversions, this could be a case of Astoria as a place-identity spilling into LIC.

Another complaint came from someone upset about the new crosslights creating a “traffic jam” on Steinway Street. Constantinides explained he put those there because pedestrians were haphazardly crossing the busy shopping strip between lights and he had already met with the businesses there about it first. The guy peeped out something about stop signs while sitting down.

A teacher said the graduation rate at her school climbed 10 percent but worries it will lose funding as a result of its success, prompting Johnson into a spiel about electing more Democrats into the state house.

A woman said she wants the politicians to back an initiative to make NYCHA safer in light of shootings and that other ferry complaint. CoJo said to keep pushing for it.

In the end, the Costas-CoJo team tried to rush the remaining questions through but they didn’t have to cut the crowd short for time. No one had questions anymore.

*The Courier reported later that Constantinides allocated funds from the budget to the senior housing development. I missed that detail.

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