Anger and frustration greeted Mayor Bill de Blasio at his Town Hall meeting at Russell Sage Junior High School in Forest Hills on February 19.
About ten people demonstrated outside before the meeting, demanding Board of Education Chancellor Richard Carranza resign. Two of those protestors were evicted during the Town Hall meeting at different times for shouting out. The chancellor wants to change how students get into specialized high schools and for making schools more diverse.
Nearly half of the approximately 400 people in the gym booed when the mayor entered. Another approximately 35 people of the overflow crowd were in an adjacent auditorium, watching from two video screens. City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz chose the people asking their questions.
Asked about crime going up seemingly because of the elimination of bail for many offenses, the mayor said, “We are not going back to the 1970s. You can believe that propaganda if you want to.” Bail reform “was the right thing to do,” he said. “We had a lot of people going to jail for minor offenses,” but he also said there “are real issues to be addressed. We have from now until June to address it.” The Chief of Patrol, Fausto Pichardo, said that the NYPD is resilient and “we were planning for this.” “We have voiced our concerns to state elected officials.”
Local resident Carol Lippman asked what is being done about the rising anti-Semitic incidents in the city. The mayor talked about representing Borough Park when he was a city councilman and still having close ties with that community. “We have seen that, for many years, a lot more hate has been unleashed.” “I take those warning signs very seriously.” Having the police respond “with overwhelming physical force,” having children learn about the Holocaust and hearing Holocaust survivors speak at schools, and now groups of Jews, African Americans, and Latinos walking around neighborhoods to engage young people before issues percolate have all made a difference.
A resident asked how the community had input about a new jail in Kew Gardens when Community Boards 8 and 9 voted against it, and Melinda Katz, when she was Borough President, was against it. The mayor said, “The City Council and the Mayor make the ultimate decision.” The mayor said, “There was a thorough democratic process,” which led to cries of “no, no” from the crowd.
People who shouted out at the meeting were approached by security, warning them not to yell out or they would be ejected.
Signs were also not allowed at the Town Hall meeting.
Local activist and a lawyer for Transportation Alternatives, Peter Beadle, asked for more bike lanes, especially on Yellowstone Boulevard and the Horace Harding Expressway in Forest Hills. DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said that the city hopes to increase new bikes lanes from 30 miles a year to 50. The bike lanes on Queens Boulevard, from Yellowstone Boulevard to Union Turnpike, will be put in by this summer.
A resident said that the homeless shelter on Cooper Avenue in Glendale “was shoved down our throats. I don’t feel safe anymore.” The mayor said, “The bottom line is we have working people who have lost their housing. There is a phrase, “There by the grace of G-d go I.”
Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks said evictions are down in New York City. Rents had gone up an average of 19 percent while income only went up five percent. The city is closing 360 shelters “designed to help people who are working to get out of the shelter.” Chief of Patrol Fausto Pichardo said, “Our neighborhood police officers will be visiting those sites.” Neighborhood Coordination Officers are assigned specific areas, so get their phone numbers and emails.
A College Point resident complained about the women’s shelter there, where women hang out in the park all day and smoke marijuana. Many residents and businesses are scared. “If someone is smoking marijuana, that is illegal and an NYPD issue. I want to see improvement,” said the mayor. Chief of Patrol Fausto Pichardo said, “You will see a change very, very soon.”
Responding to the MTA’s plans to change all the bus routes in Queens, including the average space between bus stops from 850 to 1400 feet, the mayor said, “I don’t have a majority on the [MTA] board but I do have a voice. I am not against change, but I believe in change that can serve you.”
Mayor de Blasio said he is committed to “real integration.” “I believe diverse classrooms benefit everyone. The more people get to know each other, the lessening of divisions” there will be. It will take a long time to get rid of the economic and housing divisions, he said. The mayor lived in Massachusetts in the 1970s during their attempt to integrate schools and housing. “It was horrible.” “I want to maximize desecration of schools. I want a process. CEC (Community Education Council), do you buy into it? Do you think it will work?” The mayor encouraged people to get involved.
By David Schneier