BY JON CRONIN
Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Glendale) said it’s near impossible to recreate the culture and vibrancy of Queens anywhere else in the nation, but that her district was in need of some infrastructure repairs and better transportation alternatives.
During a recent visit to the Queens Tribune office, Crowley talked about diversity, workers’ compensation, infrastructure and immigration. The councilwoman said that her district in western Queens is a transportation desert.
“My district does not have its fair share,” she said. “When they were planning New York City’s infrastructure 100 years ago, they were more generous to Manhattan than Queens, which is overburdened.”
She believes that the E and F trains, which are a 35-minute walk from her office in the Shops at Atlas Park, are the most overburdened rail lines and calls the 7 line “a runner up.”
“You can’t put more trains on that line at rush hour,” she said. “It’s not fair to those who want to spend less time commuting.”
Her signature project, in partial solution to that problem, is a light rail train that she recommended last year to run from the Shops at Atlas Park to Long Island City. Queens Borough President Melinda Katz endorsed the proposal, but with the additional recommendation that it run from Jamaica to Long Island City.
Crowley said there is currently a feasibility study underway that was funded by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan) and will be completed by the end of June.
Much of Crowley’s district also covers one of the more contentious Select Bus Service line proposals in the city. Many residents are against the removal of one lane in each direction of Woodhaven Boulevard during rush hour.
“I’m for moving traffic and easing congestion,” she said. “Sometimes, it’s at a standstill. When you talk to commuters, more people are taking the bus to work.”
She admits that her district is “car loving,” but she believes that approximately 60 percent of her constituents take buses rather than drive.
Regarding the most recent Select Bus Service design, Crowley said that the plan the Metropolitan Transit Authority presented was “far from perfect,” but she believes people who rely on the bus to get to work need faster more reliable service and cited the incredibly long commute times from Southeast Queens as a motivator for the plan.
She noted that the plan is finalized and believes the MTA is listening to criticism from the community.
“The mayor is willing to spend 100 million dollars on easing traffic on Woodhaven Boulevard,” she said. “ I certainly don’t want that money to go elsewhere.”
Another controversial topic in Council District 30 is the Holiday Inn Maspeth Homeless Shelter, which she does not support. Mayor Bill de Blasio has moved forward with his unpopular proposal to house record numbers of homeless people in hotels across the city.
“I think I’ve been vocal in my criticism,” said Crowley, who added that she’s been disappointed with the mayor and wouldn’t commit to endorsing his reelection. “Some of his policies have hurt people in my area. He owes me a meeting and a phone call. It’s difficult for me to say I’m gonna support him.”
Although it has been suggested that former Assemblywoman Margaret Markey’s primary loss in September was a result of her failing to act quickly when her community vociferously objected to the idea of a shelter in the district, Crowley doesn’t believe that the shelter was the entire reason for Markey’s defeat.
“I think in order to run a race, you have to campaign and make sure your supporters come out to vote,” she said. “She ran opposed two years earlier and there was high turnout. This time, only 2,500 people voted. There are 50,000 registered Democrats in the district. She thought she didn’t have a real opponent.”
She also pointed out that Markey’s opponent Assemblyman Brian Barnwell (D-Maspeth) did well in Woodside, where the shelter was not an issue.
While building more affordable housing is an issue in her district, Crowley wants to make sure that the workers constructing the housing get equitable pay and benefits from developers who receive tax breaks from the city.
“A lot of affordable housing developers ask for handouts from the city, but they are shortchanging their workers, either not paying them or not paying a living wage,” she said.
Crowley said that another issue that is significant to her district— but also the borough and city— is protecting New York’s immigrant population, especially in the wake of President Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigration from seven Middle Eastern countries.
“We’ve seen a huge number of people waiting to book time with attorneys,” she said. “People with green cards are even worried. There’s an atmosphere that Donald Trump has created— kids are sitting in school worried about their parents. We want to hit every age level and promote tolerance. I think it’s up to leaders to continue to be welcoming and tolerant.”
In recent years, Crowley and Katz has sought to remove community board members and replace them with people who better reflect the diverse communities that the board represents. She said that she does not believe her local community boards mirror the diversity of the district.
“There’s not much turnover,” she said. “People on the community boards are hardworking and dedicated. They grew up in the areas they represent. So, it’s multigenerational. There’s a long waiting list of people who want to serve. When you have a changing community, boards should be reflective of this.”
Crowley said that she would endorse a 20 year term limit for community board members.
Another passion for the councilwoman is pushing more women to run for office. She noted that girls and young women do not see enough women in political roles throughout the country. She said that growing up in a family with a history of holding political office inspired her to pursue a political career.
“It’s a privilege to have this job,” she said. “We’re the most progressive city in the world. You’d think we’d have a good representation of women on the City Council, but only 13 percent are women and we’re in danger of going below 10 women. If you have little kids looking at the City Council and not seeing someone of their background or gender, they won’t think it’s possible.”
She said that she and Viverito would like to get 21 women on the Council by 2021.
“I’m encouraging women to run and to think of themselves as leaders,” she said. “I was lucky I had a support system. Women need to think of themselves in these roles.”