BY JOE MARVILLI
A little more than two years ago, U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) went down to Washington D.C. and was sworn into Congress. Now, she is taking a look back at her first term.
In the first part of a series of interviews with officials who have completed their first full term in office, Meng stopped by the Queens Tribune to discuss her achievements and the challenges she faced over the last two years. The Congresswoman also looked ahead to what still needs to be done.
“It’s been a tremendous privilege serving our district, which is the only seat that is completely within Queens. It’s been amazing,” she said. “We really tried our best to go to all corners of the district and to really see what we can do to localize what Congress is doing.”
Besides moving from her Assembly district to a larger Congressional district, which runs from Bayside to parts of Ridgewood, Meng said that she had to adjust to the way Congress operates, as opposed to Albany. She said that in Albany, everyone debated bills and voted on the floor together. In D.C. though, representatives often stay in their offices, waiting for the bell to ring so they could vote and then leave again. Meng was not a fan of this process, calling it a “disservice to the country.”
Despite the very low approval rating Congress has, Meng said she did not believe the system was as broken as many think. She said she has tried her best to reach across the aisle and work with both Democrats and Republicans. Although those efforts are not as reported as the negative news, Meng said that Congress is doing a lot of good work each year.
Even though she was a freshman lawmaker in the minority party in the House of Representatives, two of Meng’s bills were signed into law by President Obama. The Protect Cemeteries Act makes the desecration of cemeteries a violation of religious freedom. The Flushing Remonstrance Study Act will look into making Queens historic sites part of the National Park Service. Meng said these ideas came from her district’s constituents.
“Almost every one of my bills stem from constituents voicing their concerns on a certain issue,” she said.
Meng said that two of the most important issues in her territory are the Veterans’ backlog and immigration. According to the Congresswoman, the wait time for veterans in New York to get their benefits is longer than the national average. The House passed legislation to hold the Dept. of Veterans Affairs more accountable for its actions. In terms of immigration, Meng is working to increase awareness that legal immigrants who applied on behalf of a sibling or child have to wait five to 10 years, which she said was unacceptable.
The Congresswoman has also worked to support small businesses in her district, by making them more aware of the resources available to them at a federal level. She held a hearing with the Small Business Administration, where business owners made their needs and obstacles known.
“I think it’s important for the federal government to know what they’re facing at a local level,” she said.
Another ongoing concern in Meng’s district is the debate over airplane noise, which has worsened over time. While a roundtable between the community and the Port Authority is underway, there have been arguments over how to run it. Meng said that these are “growing pains” and that it is ultimately a step in the right direction towards alleviating airplane noise.
“This is an issue I’ve had to work on since day one. The problem has grown. It’s like a cancer,” she said. “We asked for roundtables because this is a tool other big cities have, like Chicago. Any cities with airports and these problems have roundtables, except for New York.”
Meng also commented on the continued growth of Flushing, pointing out that while all of the economic development is great, the City needs to make sure that the infrastructure can support it with schools and other resources.
“Flushing has tremendous potential. Even during the economic downturn, businesses were still thriving,” she said. “That being said, we really need to take into account the fast pace of development with the needs of the actual people who are living and working there.”
Editor’s Note: The Tribune’s series of interviews with officials finishing their first full terms will continue on Feb. 5, with Assemblyman Ron Kim.
Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @Joe Marvilli.