On the edge of the epicenter

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Death is all around us, and everyone is jogging.

On every temperate day during this pandemic, Vernon Boulevard, the waterfront strip with its parks and protected bikeway, is a continuous stream of joggers and bicyclists, most of them now wearing masks, as ambulances frequently go blaring by. Here on the western edge of Western Queens, we are so close to the epicenter of the epicenter, but not quite of it.

Gothamist-WNYC put out a map yesterday showing how stark a difference there is between North-Central Queens and the LIC-Astoria area. The map, comparing zip codes by number of cases per capita, shows the biggest, darkest shaded area abutting right against one of the lightest shaded areas. A similar map from the New York Times on April 1, showed the hardest hit zip code with Coronavirus cases per capita was 11370 in Jackson Heights, followed by 11369 in… Corona.

“The biggest hot spots included communities in the South Bronx and western Queens,” that Times article read. From a distance, the specificity might not matter. In late March The City published a Department of Health and Mental Hygiene list ranking “West Queens” as one of the “Neighborhoods” with the most flu-related ER visits.

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Areas with flu-related ER visits in late March, top of a list provided by the Dep. of Health and Mental Hygiene, as hyperlinked to in The City.

One reasonable interpretation for the divide is that Elmhurst Hospital bares the weight of serving a vast region of neighborhoods, including Corona, Jackson Heights, Elmhurst and Woodside. Queens Courier explains the history of how hospital closures 11 years ago led to the overburdening of Elmhurst Hospital. Astoria and LIC, by contrast, has Mount Sinai Queens, which is not without its own frequent Covid-related intake, having built a triage tent. And Astoria’s city council member, Costa Constantinides, has been self-quarantining with the virus, and he tweeted this week that his wife has been hospitalized and “hasn’t been aware enough to speak.”

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But I’ll nod to other potential factors for the steep divide, such as racial disparities that leave the “Hispanic” community (category the state uses; I don’t know where this leaves the substantial Brazilian community here – in the black and white categories probably) making up the highest proportion of Covid-deaths, at 34% in the city, followed by the black community at 28%, white people at 27% and Asians at 7%. NPR suggests one explanation for this, citing an unrelated federal report, noting that “a significantly smaller percentage of Latino and black workers reported enjoying the flexibility to work remotely than their white and Asian counterparts.”

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The state tracks mortality rates, not cases altogether, by race and ethnicity, the Times notes, adding that, “health care workers and community leaders say it is indisputable that the pandemic has disproportionately affected the Hispanic day laborers, restaurant workers and cleaners who make up the largest share of the population in an area often celebrated as one of the most diverse places on earth.”

The “enemy” is density, the Times told us recently, to the chagrin of urbanist Vishaan Chakrabarti, who is profiting off planning a high-rise district in the area. Comparing North Central Queens to LIC-Astoria might be extremely helpful for everyone, I would think, because the density, as far as I can tell, is pretty much the same. Both areas have, a probably similar, mix of duplex-type row houses and mid-rise apartment buildings, along with some pedestrian-busy streets like Steinway Street and Roosevelt Avenue. There’s an idea that North Central Queens has more overcrowding within households, leading to more cases, but that seems like a theoretical explanation for now. The AP reports:

“The areas of New York that have a larger share of households with people over 65 had higher rates of confirmed cases per 1,000 people, the AP found. But other demographic variables – from high household incomes to large shares of foreign-born populations to areas with large numbers of overcrowded housing units – saw no significant link to COVID-19 case trends.”

Let’s compare the regions in some other ways. Of the population of Community Board 1, home to Astoria and upper LIC, 13% of the population is 65 or older, one percent higher than in both CB3, home of Jackson Heights, East Elmhurst and Corona and CB4, the area of south Corona and Elmhurst. In CB1, 34% of the population is rent burdened. In CB3, 53% of the population is rent burdened. The rent burdened population is at 55% in CB4. The poverty rate in CB1 is 18%; the rate is at 24% and 26% in CB3 and CB4 respectively.

Patch: Queensbridge didn’t know about Bernie rally

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From IG: BernieSanders

“Seemed to be a pretty white rally,” Bishop Mitchell Taylor told Patch

Presidential candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders held a rally, boosted by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, at Queensbridge Park last Saturday without giving Queensbridge residents much advance notice, the outlet reported yesterday. The campaign said it handed out flyers at Queensbridge the Friday before and reached out to Tenants Association President April Simpson “as soon as they got her contact information.”

There were no flyers put up in the buildings. A tenants meeting scheduled for the same time as the rally went on as planned. Sanders had announced a rally in “Queens” during the last primary debate but didn’t specify the location, missing an opportunity to fill in QB residents. 

As I tweeted last week, if the rally were in AOC’s district, it could have been in Corona Park. Queensbridge, which Amazon opponents had inserted into the battle over the corporate headquarters debate, served as a relevant backdrop. “Let’s acknowledge the ground that we are on, which is the ground zero for the fight for public housing, and fully funded, dignified housing in the United States of America,” AOC said at the rally. 

Re Patch 

Bernie and AOC are coming to Queensbridge Park

Senator Bernie Sanders, when asked last night at the Democratic Primary debate about his recent heart attack, announced he would be holding a rally in Queens this weekend. I wondered where, exactly.

The democratic socialist candidate, along with our neighboring local congress member, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, will be rallying at Queensbridge Park on Saturday. AOC, unsurprisingly will endorse the senator. 

….Also, it might go without saying there are some obvious, I think, implications here about holding a rally at Queensbridge, which played out as a major factor in the local battles against the Amazon deal. 

Rainey Park meeting?

The Parks Department with Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer hosted a scope meeting at the Noguchi Museum yesterday to solicit thoughts on the capital project to renovate Rainey Park.

What happened at the meeting? No, really, I’m asking. I only just received notice of the meeting in Astoria Post in my Google-alerts for Rainey Park one day late. JVB posted about the meeting yesterday at 11:05AM but I only seem to have seen his tweets about the Hunters Point Library opening this week and the new NBC show called “Sunnyside.”  A Google search for “jimmy van bramer rainey park noguchi” only brings up notice of the meeting in the Astoria Post article.

A call to JVB’s district office finds that the Parks Department was behind the outreach. And while I didn’t call the press line directly and can’t quote anyone, sounds like it wasn’t a heavily attended meeting. So I don’t know what else to say about the community outreach so far for how $7.5 mil will be spent.

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In other news, Suraj Patel is going to run for NY’s 12th congressional district again.

To connect Astoria to UES

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Partial NYC Ferry route map: pink dots added.

An alliance involving the Durst Organization, the Waterfront Alliance and pols are calling for an NYC Ferry connection between the Astoria and East 90th Street stops. “We have the Hallets Point dock and we have the dock at 90th Street. We just need the city to provide us with the service,” Congress Member Carolyn Maloney said at an event on Saturday.

The event was held by the Halletts Point Alliance, which seems to be some sort of non-profit extension of the Durst Organization’s emerging Halletts Point development. Waterfront Alliance director Karen Imas said the connection would also benefit the Astoria Houses residents. She noted the hour-long trek it could take to get from the Hallett peninsula to the Upper East Side for “academic institutions, health care institutions, recreational centers.”

HT: QNS, Astoria Post

Maloney challengers, libraries open for heat wave, subway flood…

Why are Millennials so ready to push out Carolyn Maloney from congress and take her seat? Last year, it was Suraj Patel, who said it was time for a new generation to take on the established MOC in the 12th NY district and push for tougher reforms such as eliminating ICE. (This worked for his peer AOC in neighboring NY-14 but couldn’t help him enough.) Now, two women are taking on Maloney – Erica Vladimir, 32, the former state senate staffer who last year accused State Sen. Jeff Klein of forcibly kissing her, and Lauren Ashcraft, 30, an LIC-based activist and comedian. Vladimir’s big thing is education policy. For Ashcraft, it’s getting money out of politics. Maloney has been in congress since 1992, when Vladimir and I were five and Ashcraft was three. 

Libraries open Sunday 

As I write this at about noon Saturday, it’s 93 degrees Fahrenheit out. By this morning, at least six deaths were recorded around the country during this record heat wave from the Midwest to the East Coast. Tomorrow, Queens Library will keep open 11 branches that are normally closed Sundays. That includes the LIC branch in Ravenswood, the Astoria Branch on west end of Astoria Boulevard and the Broadway branch. 

AG on Court Square subway flood 

The viral Subway Creatures video showing the Court Square G/7 subway station submerged in water during the epic rainstorm Wednesday night – nearly sending someone into a moving train, prompted State Sen. Michael Gianaris to write a letter asking State Attorney Gen. Letitia James to look into it. The AG then launched an inquiry into two construction companies at work at the site.

 

JVB rallies for separate walkway on QBB

Council Member JVB rallies with Transportation Alternatives and Bike New York, source: Twitter @JimmyVanBramer

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, who is running for borough president, rallied with transit advocates this morning for a separate walkway on the south side of the Queensborough Bridge.

The northern outer pathway of the bridge is currently used by both pedestrians and cyclists, with just a narrow painted division down the middle. The full pathway is 11 feet wide and the bike side is two directional. The bridge saw 6,556 bike trips in one summer day in 2017, Transportation Alternatives says.

JVB arrives for rally, source: Twitter: @JimgmyVanBramer

TA had been petitioning Van Bramer to support opening up the southern outer pathway on the bridge for pedestrian use to separate cyclists from foot traffic. The council member is now pushing the Department of Transportation.

A brief note on our representatives after Amazon

There is a narrative that says Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s election victory last year pushed State Senator Michael Gianaris, who endorsed AOC’s opponent before the HQ2 announcement and became the deputy majority leader after he came out against the Amazon deal, to take a more progressive (and possibly more visible) lead when the opportunity arrived. This narrative could extend to Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, who also endorsed Rep. Joe Crowley — and thus might have to make up for it.

The New York Times put it this way:

The company’s decision was at least a short-term win for insurgent progressive politicians led by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose upset victory last year occurred in the western corner of Queens where Amazon had planned its site...

Her race galvanized the party’s left flank, which mobilized against the deal, helped swing New York’s Legislature into Democratic hands, and struck fear in the hearts of some local politicians.

Politico New York more or less told the same story:

Gianaris had his own reasons for concern. He witnessed self-described Democratic Socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) topple Queens Democratic party boss and longtime U.S. House member Joseph Crowley in a congressional primary last year, and no doubt took notice of her unabashedcriticism of the deal.

After I expressed confusion about this narrative on Twitter yesterday – it seemed like a way of seeing AOC as the center of the political universe – I wondered if it’s possible this whole Amazon debacle actually traces back to AOC, period. I can’t say for sure that’s not how this equation worked, but this whole time, while I’ve mostly not blogged at all and didn’t attend any Amazon hearings or anything, I’ve taken a less linear view. I’ve seen Gianaris and JVB at rallies before, from near or afar, courting the activist community of LIC. Actually, I saw it on 44th Drive, the ragged strip where Amazon planned to build a campus, when the issue was a smaller scale land-use and real estate debate. And I spent four months working on a story learning about how JVB, not only readily separates himself from the mayor, but can be extremely anti-development, an especially sensitive subject in the area.

Are the local politicians, including one who may be running for borough president, being opportunistic? Could be. But the City Council and our local representatives didn’t become progressive, anti-development, anti-ICE, pro-union and populist when AOC showed up — even if they did write a letter supporting Amazon early on.

It’s not important to me to deconstruct what happened. But obviously the sudden lack of an Amazon HQ in Queens leaves us with a certain self-reflection. Queens is still not Brooklyn. Long Island City has a way of not becoming Williamsburg or Downtown Brooklyn — though it is a downtown. What we learned, I think, is that Western Queens is just as much as other places the epitome of what New York is right now, I think. Politico put it this way:

Some supporters of the deal derided Amazon’s… inability to muster the nerve to move forward in a city that has a reputation for fighting development.

JVB: only 11 ppl called to support Amazon since mailers

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer says only 11 people have called his office to support Amazon since the company has sent Queens residents mailers instructing to call him to support it. In a tweet, he said yesterday 21 people have called to oppose the Amazon deal in a total of 32 calls. In a December Quinnipiac poll, Queens residents (identified as “voters”) supported the $3 billion incentive package 55 to 39.

JVB gets Amazon mailer saying to contact himself

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Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer received one of the mailers Amazon has been sending to Western Queens residents. The latest tells him to contact himself and tell himself about the 25,000 new jobs or something. I’ve only gotten the first mailer. Of course, JVB addressed the irony in an Instagram story, now a permanent video, in which he makes it clear he won’t be calling himself to advocate for Amazon.