BY JON CRONIN
Mayor Bill de Blasio hosted his 46th town hall in Belle Harbor with Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), a frequent critic of the mayor, on Tuesday night.
The mayor and Ulrich acknowledged their differences, but stated that they have known each other for many years and are, in fact, friends.
“The mayor deserves points for coming to this community,” said Ulrich, noting that the school where they were holding the town hall “was not the best performing poll site for you on Election Day.”
Regarding Ulrich’s briefly dipping his toe into the mayoral race, de Blasio asked, “Didn’t you have a reality show about that?”
“More news to come on that, don’t you worry,” Ulrich said.
Ulrich said that although they may disagree on some things, de Blasio is everyone’s mayor and since Election Day has passed, it is now time for them to work together for the people of the city.
“Washington could take a lesson from us,” de Blasio said.
The mayor mentioned several projects that the city has prioritized for the district in recent years. The most notable for the transportation-starved Rockaways is the ferry system, he said.
“We built this thing, so no one could take it away. God help the mayor that tries to take from you,” de Blasio said, adding that the ferry system has been successful. “We have ordered bigger boats.”
Residents booed the mayor when he noted bus lanes and Select Bus Service as an asset to the Rockaway communities.
“You can dislike it, but it helps,” he said.
Lew Simon, a former Democratic district leader in the area, asked the mayor to pledge his support to the reactivation of the Rockaway Rail Line that travels between the Rockaways and Rego Park. An MTA feasibility study on the rail line was scheduled to be finished in June, but has been delayed.
The mayor told Simon that he would not give an opinion until the study is finished. He said that he would advise Polly Trottenberg—the city’s Department of Transportation commissioner, who sits on the MTA board—to advise them to expedite the study.
De Blasio noted that the region had received the most new pre-K seats in the city, jumping from 256 seats in 2013 to 1,349 this year.
The mayor added that Community Education Council 27 will get 3-K for All next fall and applications will be accepted in February.
The mayor also announced that he will travel to the nation’s capital in January to advocate for a more expedient timeline for the Army Corp of Engineers’ sustainability project along the Rockaway shoreline. The federal government has noted that it should be completed in 2020, but the mayor hopes to have it finished by 2018.
Residents asked the mayor to install more groins—which trap sand to prevent erosion—along the beach as well as more reinforced berms and a reef.
The mayor said that he would pass the information along in Washington D.C. and noted that the city is spending $20 billion on resiliency.
“We’re not gonna be done anytime soon,” he said.
The mayor deferred to Parks and Recreation Commissioner Dottie Lewandowski when asked about beach access for the disabled.
Lewandowski said that she would look into it.
Jean Belford, of Rockaway Women for Progress, encouraged the mayor to bring a trauma center to the peninsula, noting exceedingly long transport times to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center in Richmond Hill.
“We contend with the traffic on Woodhaven Boulevard and the Van Wyck Expressway,” she explained.
The mayor said he hadn’t previously heard the concern and added that when he was public advocate, he fought to keep St. John’s Episcopal Hospital open.