By Michael V. Cusenza
Hundreds of Council District 32 residents, civic leaders, and elected officials joined Mayor Bill de Blasio and several City commissioners and agency representatives on Tuesday evening in Belle Harbor for a lively, informative – and lengthy – town hall that saw Hizzoner address constituent concerns of neighborhoods that didn’t exactly turn out for him in droves in last month’s election.
District 32 covers Howard Beach, Lindenwood, Ozone Park, Belle Harbor, Breezy Point, Broad Channel, Lindenwood, Neponsit, Richmond Hill, Rockaway Park, Roxbury, South Ozone Park, West Hamilton Beach and Woodhaven—but Rockaway communities played center stage at Tuesday’s confab at PS/MS 114.
Sponsored by Community Board 14 and the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit, the town hall was hosted by CD 32 Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), who has ripped de Blasio over the past four years for everything from the budget to the bungled homeless crisis.
“We’ve been friends for a long time – you don’t have to agree on everything to have a friendship,” the mayor said of his relationship with Ulrich in opening remarks on Tuesday.
De Blasio, who was witty and ingratiating throughout the evening, thanked Rockaway residents and business owners “for all you do; and I know that comes at a cost, with sacrifice.”
Hizzoner recalled visiting peninsula communities in the days after Superstorm Sandy, when he was the City’s public advocate. He marveled at how some areas “looked like a bombing run,” and at how neighbors stepped up for neighbors in a time of utter despair.
“This community is committed to each other,” de Blasio remarked. “And I hope tonight to show you that we are committed to you.”
To that end, the mayor highlighted some recent Rockaway-focused initiatives, including the $145 million investment for up to seven resilience projects to help protect communities in the Rockaways from the impacts of climate change.
“[The City] understands how vulnerable [Sandy] has made you feel,” de Blasio said. “Communities like Broad Channel have gotten some improvements, but Lord knows we’ve got more work to do.”
De Blasio pledged to demand more work from the Army Corps of Engineers when he heads down to Washington, D.C. in January.
“I will tell Army officials that Rockaway needs more protection quickly,” he added.
De Blasio also touted the arrival of NYC Ferry and what that has meant to the peninsula.
“Oh yeah, we added these ferries – did you hear about them?” the mayor asked with a wry smile, eliciting laughter. “We built these things so no one could take them away. God help the mayor who tries to take [the ferry] away from this community.”
Transportation was a scorching hot topic of the evening, with the consensus of the crowd being that the City needs to do more for Rockaway, which has been derided for decades as a “transportation desert.”
“We have a transit crisis in Rockaway,” de Blasio admitted before touting the wildly unpopular Woodhaven-Cross Bay Select Bus Service (“You can say you don’t like it, but I guarantee it will help”), and asking for patience while the Metropolitan Transportation Authority continues its feasibility study of reactivating the long-defunct Rockaway Beach Rail Line.
By Michael V. Cusenza