By Celia Bernhardt | [email protected]
Known by many as a firebrand conservative unafraid to engage in various culture wars, Paladino says she cares about connecting across the aisle, too.
“I’m all about conversation,” Paladino said. “I’m all about meeting in the middle.”
Paladino, a longtime District 19 resident, got her start in politics as a community activist. She eventually took on a State Senate race in 2018 and lost, before cinching her spot in City Council in 2021. Now, she’s facing off against longtime Democrat rival Tony Avella, who she ran against in both previous races.
Paladino said she chose to locate her campaign office in the Bay Terrace shopping plaza because she likes to connect with constituents who might not agree with her.
“I wanted to, you know, get the other side of things,” she said. “That’s a very Democratic area there, and I just really want to talk to people. When people say, well, I don’t like your opinion on this—that’s okay. You know, sit down. Let’s talk. And I will tell you this: they walk out of there shaking my hand and saying, ‘wow, you are unbelievable.’”
Fresh in her constituents’ minds may be Paladino’s recent campaign to close down a respite center for asylum seekers in College Point. She was successful, pushing the shelter to close two weeks earlier than it was set to. “It was through my camaraderie with the mayor’s side of the building,” she said. “Constantly—phone calls. Answering my phone calls on the first ring.”
When it comes to immigration, Paladino wants a swift end to New York’s sanctuary city status. “Turn the buses around,” and “close the border” are two of her demands.
“They’re just going to keep filling up hotels that should be filled up with tourists. They’re going to be taking over national parks that should not be used,” she said. “I want to see our city say ‘no more.’ We’re not taking any more. Period, end of sentence.”
Paladino said that some of her best bipartisan work was in the realm of education, highlighting her Resolution 422 which garnered 36 out of 51 possible votes.
“That was quite the accomplishment,” she said. “422 is making vocational learning mandatory in our high schools. And I don’t mean computer sciences; I mean hands-on. You know, carpentry, electricians, plumbers, mechanics—something that kids could sink their teeth into, kids who might not do well scholastically, or think they don’t do well scholastically. But when you ask them to build something, all of a sudden that kid who didn’t do well in math, he’s using a ruler, he’s using an angle, he’s using all kinds of things that he never thought he could use.”
Paladino also highlighted her support of charter schools, and of a local campaign named “Wait ‘till 8” encouraging parents to hold off on giving their child a cell phone until they reach the eighth grade.
“A lot of parents feel like they gotta be their kid’s best friend—which, no. You’re there to do your job, and your job as a parent is to limit things that aren’t going to help your child at all.”
Paladino said she’s allocated $8 million to her district’s schools, funding technology upgrades and supporting PTAs. She also emphasized her accomplishments in funding green spaces, and especially in moving along and completing once-stalled projects such as Bowne Park.
Paladino highlighted her success in moving along a stalled $200 million project to upgrade College Point’s infrastructure. “My office, with our due diligence, we got that up and going. We have now got an end date. We go weekly.”
She continued, chuckling: “that shows you—my boots are on the ground all the time. I’m not one of these people who sit here, the way I look today, with my high heels. I’m one of these people who have worked boots on, sneakers, and a denim something, and I’m out.”
Paladino went on to mention her office’s Veterans Resource Center, her support of small landlords and her use of town halls.
“I’m all about bringing the people in. There isn’t one council member that could say they’ve brought town halls back. I not only brought them back, I made them like every other month, pertaining to whatever issue I had to cover.”
Paladino emphasized her disagreement with the City Council’s Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities, and Addiction’s decision to dismiss her from their ranks for her comments calling Drag Queen Story Hour a form of “child grooming and sexualization.”
“I don’t believe drag queens belong in school,” Paladino said. “It’s as simple as that. I just don’t. I don’t like the message that they bring across.”
Paladino then read aloud the same sexually explicit passage from the graphic novel memoir “Genderqueer” that Republican Louisiana Senator John Neely Kennedy read to the Senate Judiciary Committee in September to support his argument that librarians shouldn’t make the book available publicly.
“It’s being read in schools,” Paladino said. “These books are being read in junior high school and up.”
When asked for details about where such readings were occurring, Paladino responded “I can’t be specific about that. I don’t know.”
In response to the incident in the Senate, Genderqueer author Maia Kobabe stated that they don’t recommend the book for children, and that the sexually explicit passage is a series of text messages the protagonist receives from a partner nonconsensually, meant to highlight how such language can make someone uncomfortable.
On the matter of bike lanes, the Councilwoman had plenty of criticism. “They’ve become a real problem—you know, they’re taking up too much room on our streets.”
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all city, everybody,” Paladino said, arguing that her district is an area where people “need their cars, and need their buses,” much more than new bike lanes. “Everything has to be done with a certain amount of common sense, not ‘I’m gonna take over the world’ sort of approach, which is basically what the Commissioner of DOT has decided upon…the community has to have more of an input.”
“My Council office is probably the busiest Council office in the entire city of New York,” Paladino said. “Again, the trust issue comes into play. They know that when they come to Paladino, Paladino gets things done.”