With a microphone in his right hand, Mayor Bill de Blasio began last night’s town hall in Briarwood, emphasizing change.
While he did stress improvements such as a reduction in crime and a plan for five Select Bus Service routes in the 24th district, he also noted the opportunity to hear what else his administration must do from residents.
“At town halls, we hear an issue and we act on it right away. If there’s an agency that needs to pay attention, we get them to move immediately,” he said.
The event, which lasted three hours, is part of a series of town halls de Blasio is doing until December 31 throughout the boroughs to understand the city’s problems and ensure practical solutions are provided.
De Blasio, with City Councilmember Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows, Jamaica Hills, Briarwood) as moderator, answered 54 questions from residents in the gymnasium of MS 217 – Robert A. Van Wyck School. About 300 residents in attendance asked questions ranging from improving public safety to expanding affordable housing.
Before the meeting began, a few local officials welcomed the mayor to Briarwood. Queens Borough President Melinda Katz (D) praised the mayor for his work in his first term on improving schools through programs such as universal pre-kindergarten.
“I’m excited from all the progress in the past four years, and there’s more to do,” she said.
State Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans, Cambria Heights, Jamaica, Hollis, Rosedale, Laurelton, Kew Gardens, Queens Village), State Assemblymember David Weprin (D-Richmond Hill, Jamaica Estates), State Assemblymember Alicia Hyndman (D-Jamaica, Hollis, Rosedale), and newly-elected State Assemblymember Daniel Rosenthal (D-Kew Gardens Hills, Kew Gardens, Pomonok, Electchester, College Point) all offered their brief comments on the mayor’s arrival.
Lancman noted the diversity of Briarwood as distinct and extraordinary feature of the community.
“We think Briarwood especially represents the 24th Council District, but also the city as well,” he said.
The mayor listened to residents who shared their frustrations, problems, and ideas. Troy Walcott, a Spectrum cable employee in Electchester, shared that he is one of nearly 1,700 workers out on strike since late March. Striking workers are demanding Charter Communication, the parent company of Spectrum, offer improved field equipment and retail their current pension plans.
Walcott asked if his administration received any offer from companies after requesting private offers to expand internet access in New York City.
The Mayor noted the city is still awaiting offers. He also called Charter’s lack of negotiating unacceptable and equated it to “union busting.”
“In the beginning, I thought they were just trying to be tough and take a position. But now they’re making it very clear they don’t want to negotiate,” he said.
Education was also a major topic at the town hall. After one resident asked about improving diversity in education, de Blasio said the city is still a long way from enhancing the quality of local schools. He reflected on his time as a school board member, when he often heard comments from parents on bad and good schools.
“We shouldn’t allow that concept. We should invest to the point where you don’t have a ‘bad school,’” he said.
The mayor also responded to transportation issues in the city. He responded to one woman’s concern on train delays, and noted it was the responsibility of the state to effectively respond to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s problems.
“If you have a problem with the school system, then I’m responsible. If you have a problem with policing, I’m ultimately responsible. If you can’t say that with the MTA, then nothing will ever get resolved. We have to start with who is actually responsible,” he said.
He offered a tax on millionaire and billionaires as one permanent solution to the MTA’s lack of revenues as well as provide half-fare MetroCards to low-income residents.
The mayor also called many of city commissioners and staffers to elaborate answers and even meet with residents in the future. After one resident spoke about his negative experiences with Zara Realty, Human Resources Administration Steven Banks explained that the city can offer legal resources to keep tenants from being illegally evicted.
The Mayor’s next town hall will occur on December 5, when he joins City Councilmember Eric Ulrich (R-Belle Harbor, Breezy Point, Broad Channel, Hamilton Beach, Howard Beach, Lindenwood, Neponsit, Ozone Park, Rockaway Beach, Rockaway Park, South Ozone Park, Woodhaven) at PS 114 at 400 Beach 135th Street in Belle Harbor.