With a little more than 100 days in office now under his belt, Bayside’s new city councilman, Paul Vallone, says he is the happiest man alive.
In January, the youngest of the Vallone brothers began his first term as the District 19 representative, taking over a district that had been shaken when former Republican Councilman Dan Halloran was arrested on charges of alleged political corruption and bribery in April 2013.
Now that he has taken office as the area’s new representative, Vallone said his top priority is to restore the status of northeast Queens.
“When I got here, I could clearly see that we were a district disconnected from the rest of the city, and that’s unfortunate,” he said during a recent interview at the TimesLedger Newspapers’ offices. “I had to reintroduce northeast Queens to the city all over again. My No. 1 concern is to make sure we’re not forgotten out here.”
Vallone said District 19 has historically been toward the bottom of the 51 Council districts in the discretionary funding process for many years, and he said he is a major supporter of a newly announced proposal from the City Council that would reform the fiscal process by distributing funds equally among the districts.
Since taking office, he said he makes two or three visits a week to different schools around his district — which includes Bayside, Bay Terrace, Whitestone, College Point and Malba — to see where they excel and where they need help in terms of extra funding for more supplies or resources.
With many schools in School District 26 claiming they suffer from overcrowding, Vallone said the idea of a new school being built on the Keil Bros. property may be a welcome addition to Bayside. Plans for the facility have drawn opposition from nearby homeowners, who say the residential area is not right for a school, but Vallone said there are some benefits to it.
“It will be a zoned school with parking, which decreases the impact on the community,” he said. “It’s upsetting because of the way it happened, but at the end of the day, we’re going to have a brand-new school here.”
One of the most pressing issues Vallone is now facing, along with the rest of the city’s lawmakers, is which stance to take on the raging battle over a proposed ban on Central Park’s horse-drawn carriage industry. The councilman said he agrees that the industry in is need of a change, but said he does not want to see anyone lose their job over it. Some of the drivers live in northeast Queens.
“The nostalgic part is over and done, and we need to phase that out without losing jobs,” Vallone said. “Now it’s become a fight over putting people out of business and that’s not what it is. We can compromise to keep the horses inside the park.”
Bayside and its surrounding neighborhoods have one of the largest Korean populations in the city, and Vallone said he has made a strong effort to work closely with that community to fight for the issues they feel are important.
He said the priorities he has seen from members of the Korean community are similar to the rest of New York — family, faith and their small businesses — and he is working to connect all ethnic groups in northeast Queens into one community.
Vallone also said he will fight for small businesses, like the dozens along Bell Boulevard in Bayside, because he believes they strengthen a community and its economic status.
“Every dollar that goes to Bell Boulevard helps this entire district,” he said. “If you skip Bell, the other boulevards have no chance.”
As Vallone’s term continues, his focus will be on securing the funding that he said has been kept from Bayside and the rest of the district for many years. Looking back on his first four months in office, Vallone said he is pleased with the work he has done so far and is happy to be a Democrat from northeast Queens.
“It’s been challenging but rewarding,” he said. “Things are getting done.”