After his victory on Nov. 5, Councilman-elect Paul Vallone hit the ground running, preparing his staff and getting his priorities and goals in order for when he starts to represent District 19 in January.
Last week, Vallone sat down with the Queens Tribune to talk about the Bloomberg administration, the race for Council Speaker, the School Construction Authority and how District 19 is not getting its fair share.
When asked what his top priority is, Vallone said he is always looking for ways to help the City’s senior population, given that he is an elder lawyer by trade. He hopes to chair the Aging Committee, along with the Small Business Committee, and wants to overhaul what the City provides for senior citizens when they are out of options.“One of the first things I want to do is expand the resources available to a senior when they have nowhere else to go,” he said. “It’s something that there’s a complete lack of people focusing on.”
Besides getting more resources to seniors, Vallone also said that District 19 has not gotten its fair share financially in previous decades. He said he views this as a lack of respect for the community and it needs to change with the new Speaker.
“Clearly the City doesn’t respect District 19. It’s last in every financial capacity,” he said. “I have the Speaker candidates coming into my office this week and my first question to them is ‘what is your plan for equality throughout the City and how is my district going to get its fair share?’ We pay the highest taxes and we get the least.”
On top of getting more resources for District 19, the candidates for Speaker need to outline their plan to make the City and Queens better overall, Vallone said. He added that he believes Queens Democrats should stand together and would love to see Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) become the new Speaker.
With a new Speaker also comes a new administration, as Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio will take over after 12 years of a city under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg has frequently come under fire during the last four years for appearing to ignore the will of the communities and shoving his agenda through.
“I would think the last four years of the Bloomberg administration are very different from the first eight,” he said. “Willets Point, let’s throw a shopping mall in the middle. That wasn’t part of Community Board 7’s approval. It also showed that at some point, if the City’s going to get something, they’re going to get it. That’s where you have to be smart as a leader. If this is going to happen one way or another, what can we maximize for our district out of it?”
One such City agency that has moved forward on projects despite community opposition is the School Construction Authority. Throughout this year, the SCA has proposed and started working to get schools approved at what residents consider to be inappropriate sites. A school in Bayside at the site of the Keil Brothers Garden Center was met with aggressive opposition from Community Board 11 in May, but it was just recently approved by the City Council.
The SCA had also looked into building a school at 150th Street and 5th Avenue in Whitestone. The proposal was met with heavy opposition from the community, but Vallone said that he met and talked with the SCA president Lorraine Grillo about finding alternative sites.
“We got together very early on in the process to say this isn’t the right spot. Lorraine Grillo then turned around and said ‘can you help us find some spots?’ That’s how you do this,” he said. “When the School Construction Authority targets a site, it’s like this secret mission that no one knows about. It can’t be that way. From day one, we’re going to have a dialogue with the SCA.”