BY JAMES FARRELL
Alison Tan, a longtime manager at the real estate firm Ackman-Ziff, recently shook up Flushing politics when she announced her bid for the 20th City Council District against incumbent Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing). Her husband, Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing), had already endorsed Koo for re-election at the time.
“He didn’t know that a more viable candidate option was available,” Tan quipped.
Flushing has seen a decrease in quality of life under Koo’s watch, Tan argued. At the heart of her message is the belief that her financial background and stakes in the community—she has two young children and retired parents living in Flushing—make her more qualified than Koo to hold the powerful accountable and negotiate on Flushing’s behalf. In a sit-down interview with the Queens Tribune, she discussed overdevelopment, pollution at Flushing Creek and other quality-of-life issues in the 20th Council District.
“I think that many people feel in the district that quality of life has vastly deteriorated, that the streets are more congested than ever, that there’s so much more development and we’re not getting our fair share of resources coming back to the community relative to the economic impact that the hardworking people within the district itself are contributing toward city taxes,” she said.
Tan said that Flushing developers who seek profits and large projects without giving back to the community have exacerbated those problems. She declined to specify which developers have failed to accommodate the community, describing the issue more broadly as a problem with “every developer that has developed in Flushing.”
“I’m not saying that developers are terrible people,” she said. “[Development] is a pivotal point of progress within our community, so development is crucial. But I want to hold developers accountable—accountable for the profit that they’re making and incrementally giving back to the community that they are profiting off of.”
As a member of Community Board 7 for the past three years, Tan has had opportunities to vote on various development projects—she said she’s voted both for and against different projects, but would not name specific projects. At the most recent CB 7 meeting, she voted against a proposed rezoning on 35th Avenue between Farrington and Linden streets that would allow for a 95-foot residential building and contains affordable housing units mandated by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing plan.
At the meeting, Eric Palatnik, a lawyer for Stemmax Realty, claimed that the developers were seeking an R7-A designation since the burden of adding affordable housing made a less-dense R6-A zoning designation financially infeasible. Tan was frustrated that the developers did not have financial numbers on hand to allow her to assess their argument.
“I come from a real estate finance background. I actually understand those numbers,” she added. “I don’t want to rely on an outside consultant, financial analysts, a financial consultant who is hired by the developer…I can hold them accountable.”
She said that she believes the community board has done “the best that it could,” but that “in the end, the buck stops with the local electeds.”
Koo has previously opposed controversial projects, such as the Flushing West development. He was credited at the last CB 7 meeting with helping remove a commercial overlay from the 35th Avenue project that Tan voted against. But Tan thinks that her real estate know-how could give her more leverage in negotiating development parameters and more givebacks from developers.
“I think it’s incredibly valuable to have someone in the city council who speaks the language of developers, understands the developer and is a formidable opponent to negotiate against when developers are negotiating for density increases,” Tan said. “I don’t think [Koo] has the capabilities to do that.”
When Tan first announced her candidacy, she cited a number of other quality-of-life issues, including school overcrowding, pollution and sanitation. She admitted to the Queens Tribune that, as a political newcomer, she is still learning the specifics and nuances of solving those problems.
“I don’t purport that I know what all of the issues and all of the solutions are [on] day one,” she said, when asked about how she would address overcrowding in schools. “But I think that I’m a capable person in terms of being able to deliver on whatever agenda that I set forth to do once I reach the city council.”
She said that she would also push for constituent services for senior citizens in Flushing. With two retired parents living in the neighborhood, Tan said that she is concerned about outreach—making sure that seniors are aware of available opportunities, such as the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption, which freezes rent for seniors making less than $50,000 per year.
“I hope that—on the city council platform—I would have a really robust constituent services that not only intakes people who come to us for help, but reaches out to the people who don’t even know or are aware of the services that we could provide,” she said.
Tan also plans to increase community outreach for immigrants, many of whom are fearful under President Donald Trump’s administration and its tough-on-immigration approach. Additionally, she believes that outreach can help deal with the persistent issue of illegal spas that front prostitution rings and often use forced labor. Tan hopes to better identify such spas and ensure that victims of sex trafficking who work there find relief.
Tan also emphasized the importance of maintaining transportation infrastructure. She praised Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Select Bus Service and Vision Zero plans, and said that she wants to resolve traffic congestion issues in Flushing before considering the addition of more bike lanes. Downtown Flushing is one of Vision Zero’s “priority corridors,” which means it is a target for reduced traffic fatalities under the Vision Zero plan. Between 2009 and 2013, 91 pedestrians were killed.
Infrastructure is also lacking in terms of sewage processing, Tan said, as evidenced by the smell of Flushing Creek every time it rains.
A recent “long-term control plan” to clean up Flushing Creek and Flushing Bay—introduced by the city Department of Environmental Protection and currently being reviewed at the state level—suggested using chlorination to clean the waterways, which has rankled some environmentalists.
“A Band-Aid solution like putting just chlorination isn’t going to resolve the issue,” she said. “We need more wastewater sewage- treatment plants and I would push for larger capital infrastructure—green infrastructure solutions.”
She also suggested that she would be able to engage more effectively in the district with a broader array of communities within Flushing’s diverse population.
“I think that our current councilmember, because of his background, he’s more narrowly focused and feels comfort in one specific subset of the community, rather than the whole,” she said. “I think he has a lot of support within the first-generation Chinese Americans, and that’s great because having that generation be civically involved is important. But I think that the district itself is much broader than that.”
Reach James Farrell at (718) 357-7400 x 127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @farrellj329.