BY JON CRONIN
As the midterm elections begin to heat up, U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) stopped by the Queens Tribune to discuss the nation’s lack of funding for infrastructure and rebuilding civility in the era of Donald Trump’s presidency.
Upon being asked how a working government and the increasingly toxic atmosphere of policy making can be rebuilt, Meeks said frankly, “We gotta rebuild society.”
“When I think about it and what’s going on–reality TV, being combative and everything else, I think the president is setting that standard,” Meeks said. “He likes divisiveness. That’s what he did on his show [The Apprentice].”
Meeks said he believes that cable news networks feed on such behavior.
“It’s not just the institution of Congress,” he said. “It’s society as we live it right now. That’s something we gotta get a hold of and reign back. So we can get back to civility.”
He believes that although the party extremes dominate the playing field, there is a need for legislator who believe in bipartisanship to endure.
“We’ve got to work together and show that we can work together,” he said.
Meeks said that, in the midterm election, moderate Democrats and Republicans will be under fire from their parties’ bases since those seats could swing in either direction.
He said that to better obtain funding for his district, he must make sure that the 2020 census has an accurate count. In 2010, the census inaccurately showed that Queens had only grown by approximately 4,000 residents in 10 years, a number that brought fewer dollars to the borough on the city, state and federal levels.
Meeks said that it is his mission during his reelection campaign to knock on doors and educate constituents on the census, and how it helps to get an accurate count. Meeks noted that Democrats are fighting to get citizenship questions removed from the census. Citizenship status has not been questioned on the census since 1950, he said.
The congressman pointed out that, in 2016, Trump campaigned on the promise of reinvigorating the economy with jobs from big infrastructure projects throughout the country. That has yet to happen, he noted.
“The U.S. has an infrastructure that is 50 to 60 years old,” he said.
He believes that other up-and-coming countries now have newer better infrastructure than the United States. As a ranking member of the Finance Committee, Meeks said that he is pushing infrastructure projects, which he said would add numerous jobs in the borough. He said that if the Democrats retake the House or Senate in November, they will prioritize bringing federal dollars to big infrastructure projects, such as the updating of interstates, airports and bridges.
“I’m not looking to create minimum wage jobs. I’m looking to create jobs that pay a living wage, and continue to create jobs in a global economy,” he said. “I’m looking for not only the jobs that are being created today, but the jobs that are being created tomorrow.”
Meeks noted the importance of the tech industry in the global economy. He said that 100 years ago, the United States had an agricultural economy, but it transitioned into a manufacturing economy and, now, has moved into the tech industry.
“If you’re not in the technological industry, then you’re going to lose out in the long run,” he said.
He said that he wants to make sure that his constituents are educated to be in a workforce that is part of that global economy.
“The key to a good neighborhood is a good school system,” he said. “When you look at the history of America, African Americans have been at the bottom of the economy.”
He added that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. believed that a significant element of civil rights progress was fiscal equity in the workforce, which involves access to education and a career that provides a living wage.
In the borough, Meeks cited the restructuring of John F. Kennedy International Airport, feasibility study for the reactivation of the Rockaway Rail Line, continued rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy, beach conservation in the Rockaways and the expansion of the city’s ferry service as progress. He also noted that the state’s Department of Transportation has recently proposed to expand the Van Wyck Expressway by one lane in each direction.
“The Van Wyck has to be expanded,” Meeks said.