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.

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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. Continue reading “Speaker Corey Johnson comes to Astoria”

Women’s Ride sets off from Queensbridge

Women gathered on bikes at Queensbridge today ahead of a seven-mile ride to Borough Hall to highlight the gender gap in the cycling community and to call for more bike lanes in Queens.

A few notes:

More notes after the jump

Continue reading “Women’s Ride sets off from Queensbridge”

Cold politics surround Astoria Houses

Sure, it’s getting warmer. But a political battle over the heating system at the Astoria Houses got more complicated this week. Bronx Councilman Ritchie Torres, who chairs the oversight and investigation committee (he formerly chaired the NYCHA oversight committee), published a report claiming that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration will be to blame for six more “heating seasons” (somehow that translates to three years, apparently) with boiler problems at the Astoria Houses. The New York Daily News, in a January 29 story on citywide Housing Authority boiler issues, featured the Astoria Houses:

“While all four permanent boilers at the Astoria Houses were up and running, they were barely able to heat the building to 68 degrees. And while some developments have a redundancy — an extra boiler that kicks in if one fails — Astoria doesn’t.”

The Torres report follows the admin’s decision last November to cancel $43.5 million in financing from the Housing Development Corporation towards the Durst Organization’s 163-unit, affordable housing building, planned for the Astoria Houses campus as part of its Halletts Point mega-development. (This was supposed to be a way for NYCHA to profit from some of its land.) The deal involved Durst paying for boiler repairs at the Astoria Houses. Politico last week said the city “disputed” that pulling the finances was part of a feud after de Blasio listed Durst as an example of a campaign contributor that didn’t receive a favor: in this case, not winning a contract to run the East River ferry.

“There was a leading real estate developer and campaign contributor who wanted the contract for our new citywide ferry service. His proposal was good, but the City agency involved thought another one was better. He didn’t get the contract.”

After that op-ed, a Durst spokesman said, “Winter is coming.” Douglas Durst had also financed lawsuits against de Blasio-backed Pier 55 on the Hudson River.

A few notes:

  • State Senator Michael Gianaris makes case for gun purchase background checks.

Politics and free food

 

I stalked Councilman Jimmy van Bramer today. Well, for five minutes I swung by the annual black history month celebration at the Jacob Riis Settlement at Queensbridge. I stood quietly in the back and noticed there was lots of free food. JVB honored a whole bunch of people. Here’s a whole list of them. What I heard sounded like a tribute to people making their community a great place by doing things such as anti-violence work.

A year ago, QB was recognized for going one year with no shootings. The streak was marked over in May. Early this year a woman caught a stray bullet by the F train station. I’m not sure what else has gone on over there other than last summer’s mural wars. Nothing like the Roxanne Wars. The film about the QB rapper Roxanne Shante will be on Netflix soon BTW. But anyway I think the event highlighted all the good stuff people are doing there.

So here’s what I think is also important: JVB said a few days ago he will run for borough president.

Here’s Rep. Carolyn Maloney’s statement on Black History Month that just came in my inbox. Why is it war themed?

A few notes:

  • Sam Roberts wrote an obituary that includes the name Samuel Robert. Read it for a history on the Kaufman Astoria Studios.

“In 1982, Mr. Kaufman, the scion of a century-old New York real estate family, led a group of investors in rescuing the Queens complex…”

  • Good news for Gibney’s girls.
  • Old news: A few days ago Councilman Costa Constantinides announced he’s officially going through with making over Steinway Street: he wants there to be mid-block crosswalks and a plaza. But I’m… not sure when and how? And he doesn’t seem to be sure where this plaza will be. Too bad no one reads this yet. I’d say, post your opinion on where the plaza should go.