BY JAMES FARRELL
At the Broadway-Flushing Homeowners Association’s “Candidates Night” on June 22, candidates running for the 19th and 20th City Council districts discussed their campaigns and the issues facing their constituents.
Last week, the Queens Tribune wrote about the debate between Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) and challenger Paul Graziano during the meeting. This week, we follow up with the candidates for the 20th Council district: Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) and challenger Alison Tan.
Alison Tan framed herself as a newcomer with high stakes in the district—citing her two children and aging parents who live there. She hopes to combat what she described as a deteriorating quality of life in her council district. She argued that Flushing’s rapidly growing population has strained Flushing’s infrastructure, and that Koo had not done enough to fight for adequate funding.
“And why does our councilmember not fight for it?” she asked. “Maybe because he isn’t raising kids here. Maybe it doesn’t matter to him that the schools are busting at the seams.”
When asked how she would account for a lack of experience compared to Koo, who has served as councilman since 2010, she cited her work as a manager at the real estate finance firm Ackman Ziff, arguing that she has been successful in a field dominated by men and became “one of the youngest managing directors” at the firm. Her real estate insight could help her with issues such as excessive property taxes, she said, and working in the private sector taught her how to be “held accountable.” She also cited her experience as a mother who is taking care of two elderly parents.
Tan also argued that many in the community were unaware of opportunities—many seniors, for instance, did not realize they could get relief from rising property taxes under the Senior Citizen Homeowners’ Exemption. Outreach would be a strong component of her office, she said.
“I think a very strong, active constituent service for City Council is incredibly, incredibly important for our community,” she said.
Koo told the audience of how he immigrated from China, paid his way through pharmacy school by working part-time service jobs and, ultimately, opened multiple pharmacies in New York.
Koo originally ran for office as a Republican. He became a Democrat before his 2013 re-election, saying that the Democratic Party, as the majority party, offered him more support and chairmanship opportunities.
“I became the chairman of the Landmark Committee, and I had the opportunity to put more money and more resources into our community here,” he said.
Since then, Koo argues, he’s brought back more than $20 million for schools and libraries. However, he acknowledged that in today’s City Council, under Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, councilmembers get similar amounts of funding—although that was not the case when he first took office.
When asked what he was doing to accommodate Flushing’s growth and alleviate congestion, Koo said that parking in downtown Flushing should be discouraged and suggested that it could be possible to develop an app that alerts drivers to parking availability.
“With the technology now, I think we can help improve the traffic and the parking problems in downtown Flushing,” he said.
Tan, along with Graziano and Vallone, opposes plans to close Rikers Island, citing fears that it could lead to more detention centers in local communities. Koo is more open to closing it, but acknowledged that it’s “not an easy process” and expressed concern about new detention centers. Tan said that she believes “there should be penalties” for low-level, quality-of-life crimes such as public drinking and urination. However, she fears that overly severe penalties or jail time could hurt young people, who “deserve second chances.” She also opposes the return of stop-and-frisk policing policies, fearing that such laws could disproportionately affect minorities.
Koo said that it was necessary to give less-severe punishments, such as city summonses as opposed to arrests, in order to reduce overpopulation in the city’s detention centers. He supports stop and frisk as long as it is done in “an equal and professional manner.”
Reach James Farrell at (718) 357-7400 x 127, email@example.com or @farrellj329.