2023 Campaign Election Profile: Tony Avella

By Charlie Finnerty |

Former State Senator Tony Avella is challenging Vickie Paladino for a second time in an attempt to win back the seat he once held in the 19th city council district. Avella represented District 19 from 2002 to 2009 before heading to the state senate. As a member of the Independent Democratic Conference — a group of conservative democrats that caucused with the republicans to protect the republican senate majority — Avella has branded himself as a moderate in contrast to Paladino’s firebrand conservatism.

“I don’t believe the people of northeast Queens want an extremist representing them,” Avella said. “I think now people know what Vickie Paladino stands for, and that doesn’t represent our district.”

After being primaried out of the senate by former Comptroller John Liu, Avella attempted to return to City Council in 2021 but lost to Paladino by less than 400 votes.

“I think last time there was a red wave that went through the city and people voted for [Paladino] down the line, not knowing who she was,” Avella said.

Avella pointed to Paladino’s approach to Local Law 97, a measure which sets limits for greenhouse gas emissions from large buildings across the city. Of the roughly 50,000 properties over 25,000 square feet that are subject to the law, the vast majority have already reached 2024 targets, according to the New York Times. How to enforce the measure for the number of properties that have not yet reached those targets — only about 10 percent — and keep the city on track for future emissions goals has become a thorny issue in city politics this year. 

Avella said he had issues with the original construction of the bill but emphasized its importance in protecting New Yorkers from the growing effects of climate change highlighted by recent severe weather events. He particularly emphasized the burdens faced by co-ops and condominiums under the law and has called on the city and state to either offer municipal bonds and tax breaks to those property owners or directly implement the changes needed to reach emissions goals for those properties at no cost to owners.

“You can’t place the burden of addressing climate change on the very people that are least able to afford it,” Avella said.

Paladino has called for the law’s implementation to be delayed by seven years to allow more time for property owners to meet its requirements, which Avella said shows a lack of desire by the councilwoman to find solutions and take accountability on tough issues.

“Vicky Paladino introduced a bill to kick the can down the road and extend the implementation by seven years,” Avella said. “That would coincide with term limits, so in fact she wouldn’t have to deal with the issue, just pass the buck to whoever comes in after term limits kick in. That’s not leadership.”

Robert Hornack, a representative from Paladino’s campaign refuted this characterization in a written statement, saying the seven year delay will allow time to provide financial relief for property owners and claiming Avella’s plan is not feasible.

Avella has been vocally critical of Mayor Adams’ approach in dealing with the current influx of asylum seekers to the city and called on the mayor to file lawsuits against the federal government, Texas and Florida for causing what has been called a crisis by many elected officials in order to recoup costs, rather than cut city services as Adams has called for.

“We should be compassionate, but we don’t have the money to house them, we don’t have the jobs available for them. How are we helping these individuals? We certainly can’t afford them,” Avella said. “The mayor has to get this money from the federal government.”

Avella also called on the federal government to close the border, a stance he said he was surprised to see himself take, and said he would not accept any shelters in his district.

“Northeast Queens is not the place to put them,” Avella said. “When you place them here, where are they going to go? There’s no health services, we don’t have a hospital in the district. We have a transit desert, so it’s hard to get from one place to another without a car. And we don’t have the jobs in the district, they have to go someplace else.”

Avella said another major disagreement he had with Mayor Adams was the administration’s recent attempt to push city employee retirees off their existing and expected pension benefits plan in favor of a private healthcare plan. The plan was blocked by a judge this past summer but has been appealed by the Adams administration. Avella signed a pledge in support of the lawsuit against the mayor’s plan and called on Adams to drop his appeal, calling it “disgraceful.”

“Government, if it does anything, has to be fair and it has to be consistent. If you promise something as a government, we should follow through on it, despite any administration,” Avella said. “I understand the mayor is trying to save money, but you don’t save it on the backs of the people who put in their whole lives working for the city. It’s very very wrong.”

Avella said he would push for increased city revenue by taxing the wealthiest one percent of income earners and Wall Street. One key measure Avella proposed in the senate and said he would pursue in city council is reimposing a tax on stock transfers. While the state has had a tax on the sale of securities in the books since 1915, that tax has been functionally nullified by a 100 percent rebate instituted in 1979 handing the money back to the industry. While the tax only comes out to about one tenth of a percent on the average trade on Wall Street, Forbes estimates the lost tax revenue has cost the city over $350 billion. In the senate, Avella proposed lowering that rebate to 60 percent but said even a change of 10 or 20 percent would bring in billions of added revenue to the city.

On property taxes, Avella said the New York City carve out to the state-wide two percent cap on property taxes is wrong and voted against it in the senate. In addition, Avella called for a separate tax classification for co-ops and condominiums alongside one and two family homes rather than their current commercial rental property classification which subjects owners to much higher tax rates.

“Why can’t we have the same two percent property tax cap that the entire state has?” Avella said. “Why are co-ops and condos continually disadvantaged by paying a higher property tax than they should?”

District 19 Candidate Profile: Vicky Paladino

By Celia Bernhardt |

Vicky Paladino. Credit: Charlie Finnerty

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.”

Bay Terrace to Get Facelift

By Celia Bernhardt |

Cord Meyer announced a major investment in Bay Terrace Shopping Center with celebratory speeches and a ribbon cutting on Oct. 25. Several of Cord Meyer’s leadership spoke at the event, as well as Queens Borough President Donovan Richards and City Councilperson Vickie Paladino.

A crowd of about thirty attendees gathered in the shopping center’s parking lot to celebrate the plans.

“It’s about the future of not only the shopping center, but the future of the neighborhood,” Cord Meyer Vice President and Bay Terrace Project Lead Joe Forgione said to the crowd.

Forgione said that the renovations will include improving pedestrian walkways, building outdoor seating areas, prioritizing dining and recreational spaces and improving the connection between the upper and lower levels of the mall.

Richards celebrated the investment as a way to increase jobs in the area, and as part of a wider upturn in economic development in the borough. “I’m so proud of where we’re headed in Queens County,” Richards said to the crowd. “And this is certainly more of an indication of how much more growth is coming—how we are really thinking strategically about how do we grow our economy.”

Paladino spoke affectionately about Cord Meyer to the crowd, identifying herself as part of the “Cord Meyer family.”

“You’re talking sixty years ago—so I’m just a little older than that,” she said, recalling the shopping center’s past. “I remember coming here when it was just a simple bowling alley, and we had a few shoe stores, and whatever. But it was just small. We watched this grow, and we watched Cord Meyer turn this into a destination.”

Speakers throughout the event made reference to Cord Meyer’s over 100-year-long history in Queens as a developer. Forgione reminded the crowd that “entire neighborhoods,” such as Elmhurst and Forest Hills, had been built by the corporation.

“To Cord Meyer, to Matt, to Joe, to Paul, to all of you: welcome, welcome, welcome,” Paladino said. “Bay Terrace is back.”

Framed as a response to the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic posed to brick and mortar stores, the project is named “Moving Forward.”

Forgione explained that although the growing popularity of online shopping over recent decades was always a cause for concern, Bay Terrace retained a strong customer base until the pandemic hit. Along with plenty of other brick and mortar shopping centers around the nation, the outdoor mall encountered serious challenges.

“You have nationwide closures of stores, you have bankruptcies to deal with—things beyond our control,” Forgione said. “During the pandemic, the company gave away $7 million in rent relief to try to keep tenants going, and still, we ended up with a significant number of vacancies. So from that, we started to do our due diligence, we started researching what other shopping centers were doing across the country…And from that time, we began conversations with our own tenants [about] what we could do for them.

Making the mall both safer and more social and engaging for pedestrians will be a significant part of the development. Prioritizing sectors which consistently draw in-person customers, like dining and athletic facilities, is a part of this, as well as building more outdoor seating and designated spaces for community events.

“That’s really what’s going to tie up all the loose ends and get the tenants to finally lease the space, Forgione said. “So we’ve always had the interest, but this is going to put us over the top and really bring the shopping center back to what it always was.”

The development of the shopping center will take place in phases, according to a Cord Meyer press release. The first phase will involve a “total redesign” of the now-vacant Victoria’s Secret and Applebee’s locations, including the building of a second floor.

Artist’s rendering of what the new Bay Terrace Shopping Center entrance will look like. Courtesy of Cord Meyer

Paladino called Bay Terrace the “heartbeat” of Bayside, and said that making it more of a social destination would do well for the mental health and safety of young people in the neighborhood.

“Our young people, they are wandering aimlessly a lot of times at night, sometimes getting into trouble,” Paladino said. “But they do come to Bay Terrace, and there’ll be more for them to do here.”

Cord Meyer CEO, Matthew Whalen, closed out the day’s speeches.

“You know what I love about today?” he asked the crowd. “I love trying to speak loudly over the construction noise of jobs, jobs, jobs.”

Whalen expressed his appreciation for Paladino and Richards for coming together to support the development.

“We don’t agree on everything; we agree on a lot of things,” he said. “But their door has always been open to Cord Meyer, and we appreciate that.”

Remembering Krystyna Naprawa

By Celia Bernhardt

Photo credit: Celia Berbhardt

A candlelight vigil was held on Monday night for Krystyna Naprawa, a beloved NYPD school crossing guard who was killed on the job after being struck by a dump truck in Woodhaven.

The tragedy took place on Friday morning at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard. The vigil was held at a gas location at the same intersection.

39-year-old Hector Yepes was operating the truck, and has been arrested and charged with failure to yield to a pedestrian. Naprawa was 63 years old.

Community members, friends, family, and colleagues gathered at the gas station, holding electric candles. The sounds of cars and trucks on the busy roads surrounding the event was ever present. Mayor Adams was in attendance at the vigil, along with numerous police officers and local representatives.

“My heart goes out to the family. Words cannot really take away the pain,” Adams said to the crowd. “But our presence can do a lot to give the assurance that we celebrate a life that was committed…a life that was well-respected.”

A staffer representing Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez also spoke to the crowd.

“She’s been a community fixture since she began her job in 2010, making sure students were safe here at this intersection,” the staffer said. “For 13 years, young students and their families, including myself, crossed this intersection to get to P.S. 210, CTEA, or any other school. And they were safe because of Ms. Naprawa. For that, the Woodhaven and the Ozone Park community will forever be grateful.”

“The Congresswoman knows and she believes that we have to do more to secure the safety of pedestrians at this intersection,” he continued. “So she’s personally reaching out to the Department of Transportation.”

Two of Naprawa’s colleagues, Shahana Chowdhury and Jahanara Islam, remember her as a very kind person. They are shaken by her passing.

“Now that Krystyna passed away, I’m really scared too,” Chowdhury said. “Sometimes I say I’m going to quit the job. I don’t want to live my life like this…when I think like this, it’s very scary. Then I feel crazy, so sometimes I try to forget.”

“She was so sweet,” Islam said.

After the speeches and a moment of silence, the crowd crossed the street, with the help of multiple NYPD offices and crossing guards, to lay down flowers and candles on the corner.

CB6 Has Questions for Queensway

By Celia Bernhardt

Community Board 6 held a meeting on Tuesday for its Select Committee on the Rockaway Beach Right of Way to receive a presentation from the New York City Economic Development Corporation and the Parks Department on the status of the Queensway project, as well as to ask questions and provide feedback. The discussion was also opened to general board members and attendees from the public.

Around 20 members of the public attended the event, held in the Rego Center’s community room on Oct. 17.

QueensWay, a plan to transform the abandoned Rockaway Beach Branch rail line into a linear park, received an initial $35 million from Mayor Adams in September 2022. The first and widest portion of Queensway, the Metropolitan Hub, is slated to be built in Community District 6.

There was no shortage of questions from the board and public about logistics and design, from bike paths to bathrooms to construction disturbance to worries about the elevated park allowing its visitors to see directly into the windows of locals’ houses.

But the topic that came to the forefront of discussion most frequently was QueensLink—the proposal of reactivating the Rockaway Beach Branch rail as a new, North-South train line, not favored by the MTA or Adams administration but still the subject of devotion and advocacy from Queens transit activists and many locals. QueensLink advocates worry that proceeding with the development of QueensWay would preclude the option of a reactivated rail in the future. The MTA’s 20-year needs assessment seemed to corroborate this for many, as it framed the QueensWay plan as a barrier to QueensLink.

Chair of the Board Heather Beers-Dimitriadis opened the meeting with remarks about the purpose of the conversation, reminding the Board that they would not ultimately get a vote on the project because the land is already under city ownership.

“Our power comes in the amount of scrutiny and the amount of answers that we’re able to get,” Beers-Dimitriadis said. “At the end of the day, we win by understanding the project at its fullest.”

Angelina Espino, a senior project manager with NYCEDC, led the presentation. She and other representatives throughout the night emphasized that Queensway was in a schematic phase of gathering community input and developing preliminary designs.

“Some common themes we’re seeing in these different touchpoints in the community: anything  from a bike and pedestrian path, outdoor classroom space, these landscaping and garden areas,” she said.

Next in the timeline, she said, will be a “public community workshop” that draws in more residents from the area. A secondary update to the community board on design, with more opportunities for input, will follow; then, finally, the Public Design Commissioner review will take place. Espino put this final stage at “early 2024.”

Pedro Rodriguez, a member of the Board’s Transportation, Public Transit, Street Safety Committee, asked the first question of the night. “I guess I’ll start with the elephant in the room, which is QueensLink,”  Rodriguez said. “Is the city and is the EDC doing anything specifically to ensure that, in the future, if the MTA does get its act together and does decide to at some point run the subway, that this will not impede [that]?”

“First and foremost, you know, our scope of work today is mainly on the Metropolitan Hub. That is what funding is for today, that is what we have approvals to really see through today,” Espino said. “We would essentially need a commitment from the MTA in order to really consider any sort of transit activity in the Metropolitan Hub site…we want to focus on what we can control today.”

Another question came from Peter Beadle, 1st Vice Chair. “Why was the Metro Hub chosen as the first part of this to be done? As opposed to, say, closer to the junction with the main line, where there’s a large tract of land that, I might be wrong, but I don’t think would conflict with the QueensLink if it was developed now—whereas the Metro Hub comes into direct conflict with those plans.”

Espino explained that there were multiple reasons for this, chief among them being that the Trust for Public Land and Friends of the Queensway had already generated a design and proposal as well as secured funding for the MetHub section specifically.

Questions jumped from bike paths to bathrooms to construction disturbance to worries about the elevated park allowing its visitors to see directly into the windows of locals’ houses for over an hour, with the occasional QueensLink-related inquiry. Towards the end of the two hours, Travis Terry, a Forest Hill resident and longtime supporter of QueensWay, expressed his appreciation for the project.

“I just want to say um that this project means so much to so many people. I have personally, as have many members of the Friends of the QueensWay, been to park cleanups where we have hundreds of people, been to schools starting from 2011, we’ve spoken with all sorts of community stakeholders, business members who are excited about this project, to gather input,” he said.

“Look, I don’t have much to say on a train. There have been a variety of different accusations that somehow we’re trying to block that. That is completely untrue. There have been multiple studies over the last 60 years since this was abandoned, of all the aspects, and for whatever reason transit authorities have concluded not to fund those projects.”

An attendee from the public spoke next, reflecting on how the conversation about QueensWay had gone. “Part of what I’m hearing is sort of existential or really fundamental feedback about whether to do it, the nature of it, whether it can be replaced at some point in the future. And what I hear you [presenters] saying is sort of more tactical, or like elements of the park design…I guess for the community I’m just curious whether you will actually engage on the more fundamental questions, or whether you really want to focus this process on how to do it, as opposed to whether to do it?”

Espino acknowledged that the discrepancy between these focuses would be one of the meeting’s takeaways. “I’m not sure if there is a very clear yes or no to ‘can we really eventually include a railway,’ or ‘will this even be looked at eventually,’” she said. “I think right now since we are at the very preliminary stages of design and we have just recently gotten a landscape architect and a design consultant, we want to take this and really get to that final design, but also continue to answer those questions of what will the future look like, whether that be parks or a rail.”

Michael Carlier, the transit and parks liaison for Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, spoke next.

“This land is abandoned and decrepit so at the end of the day this development is going to be a net positive for the community,” he said, “A lot of those concerns that we’ve heard tonight—quality of life, disruption through the construction efforts—our office is hearing that, we’re going to continue working with you guys to make sure those are addressed. But just from the Borough President’s position, he has been consistent when he says we do like trails, but we also love rails. So if there’s a way that we can move forward with this process with EDC, with the parks department, loop the MTA in more into that conversation on these public concerns that we’re hearing tonight.”

Keith Engel, 2nd Vice Chair of the board, closed out the conversation by thanking the board and reiterating the importance of the select committee’s engagement.

“I think you heard a number of things about how we can consider the possible integration of parks and rails—I think that’s one of the main takeaways from this evening,” he said.

Shanahan Running for Civil Court Judge: Claims Opponent has Never Done Trial Work

By Celia

Will Shanahan was inspired to enter the race for Queens Civil Court Judge when a member of the Queens GOP called him one Sunday morning in early 2021 and asked him, simply, if he wanted to run.

“I said, ‘is it going to cost me anything?’” Shanahan recalled. “He said, ‘not really.’ And I said, ‘I’m in.’”

Though he lost the election that year, Shanahan remained undeterred; this year, he’s running again, challenging Democrat attorney Evelyn Gong for a spot on the Civil Court bench in Queens’s 6th municipal district. The district includes the neighborhoods of Flushing, College Point, Bay Terrace, Auburndale, Kew Gardens and Fresh Meadows. Once appointed to their ten-year term, however, judges may find themselves serving in civil, criminal, or housing courts in districts anywhere throughout the city, depending on need.

Shanahan touts a 34-year record as an attorney, with criminal trials making up the majority of his focus throughout the years.

“If you look at what I’ve done, everything has been about public service,” Shanahan said, explaining that he tried working at a big law firm but couldn’t stand it. “All I did [there] was build so that the partners could make money. And it was so unrewarding, so I left…I’ve been in the court system, I do a lot of pro bono work, I’ve helped a lot of people. That’s what I get a kick out of, is helping people.”

Shanahan worked in the District Attorney’s office for the first ten years of his career as a prosecutor before working with Allstate Insurance, litigating in civil trials. While he thinks this allowed him to get “a good balance” of experience, he missed criminal law, and eventually founded his own private practice. Much of his work since then has been within criminal trials—he often acts as a court-appointed lawyer for defendants who can’t afford to hire their own lawyer.

“I’ve been on both sides,” Shanahan said. “I used to put ‘em in jail, now I get ‘em out.”

Considering the possibility of being placed in housing court, Shanahan said “[M]y priority would be to move cases. There are landlord-tenant cases that have taken years to come to court.”

Shanahan recounted giving a lecture on the topic, titled “how to be a landlord and not get arrested.”

“So many people have come to me, and say that they are ready to pull their hair out,” he said. “I’m representing landlords, because they’re demanding that people get out and they call the cops on them, and then they get arrested for harassing the tenants.”

Shanahan emphasized that he has received approval from the New York City Bar, while his opponent, Evelyn Gong, was rated “not approved.” Gong was not alone in this—neither of her two competitors in the Democratic primary received approval either. One of them, John Ciafone, declined to participate in the rating process from the start.

“To my knowledge, [Gong] hasn’t done a trial in her life,” Shanahan said.

Gong did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

“I think there’s no better way to end your career than being a judge,” Shanah said as he reflected on the course of his work in law. “And since I’ve been on both sides, I’ve been on every side of the law—why not be on top of it now?”

MTA Report Sidelines QueensLink Plan

By Celia Bernhardt |

On October 4, the MTA released its 20-year needs assessment and a blow to the QueensLink movement.

The extensive assessment included a section of side-by-side analyses of 25 different proposals to expand, connect, and extend certain parts of the transit system. The Rockaway Beach Branch Reactivation proposal, often referred to as QueensLink, scored low on most of the seven metrics used.

“Reactivating the Rockaway Beach Branch with NYCT service has a high cost and serves a relatively modest number of riders,” the MTA’s evaluation reads. “Compared to other projects, the benefits are average for sustainability and resiliency.”

This comes just a month after a QueensLink rally at City Hall with Queens politicians from both parties voicing their support gave the cause a boost of hope.

The QueensLink plan would reactivate a railway in Southern Queens left defunct for the past 60 years, connecting the Rockaways to Rego Park—where transit into Manhattan, and transfers to other lines, are available. The proposed line would connect passengers with the A, J/Z, EFR, 7, and G lines, as well as with the LIRR. The plan also includes 33 acres of greenspace and bike paths stretching along the path.

Advocates have been campaigning for years to reactivate the rail. Supporters of the plan emphasize that residents of Southern Queens, severely underserved by public transit, currently have some of the longest commutes in the nation.

Assemblyperson Khaleel Anderson, who represents South Ozone Park and part of the Rockaways in Assembly District 31, slammed the transit authority’s evaluation.

“The MTA has failed, yet again, to figure out how to resolve transportation issues that are impacting some of the most vulnerable working class folks in our city,” he said.

Anderson also pointed out that the lack of easy access to the rest of the borough and to Manhattan isolates many Rockaway residents from economic opportunities.

“You’re talking about transportation apartheid,” he said, and emphasized how impactful the rail reactivation would be. “You’re talking about getting people into the city quicker, you’re talking about opening up more economic opportunities for communities like mine that can’t get to Manhattan and so they can’t take that job opportunity…You’re talking about systemic, drastic changes to how people will move about the city.”

QueensLink’s map of what a reactivated Rockaway Beach Branch rail would look like.


In context

An MTA spokesperson said that the document did not constitute a finalized rejection of the QueensLink proposal.

“The 20 year needs assessment lays out what will be needed in the next capital plan, which is the 2025-2029 capital plan. And we’re kind of letting the findings speak for themselves, for everyone to see,” the spokesperson said. “But it’s not a rejection or a confirmation of any project.”

Still, the Rockaway Beach Branch’s relatively low ranking in a competitive batch of proposals makes it clear that the MTA is not interested in pursuing the plan at this time. The highest ranked proposal by far was the Interborough Express, a project that Governor Hochul has long supported.

The MTA spokesperson said that the comparative analysis of 25 proposals was intended to “give the public more of a broad perspective, and an overview.”

“If you live in Queens, you may be thinking of Queens, and not necessarily think, oh, there are things going on in the MetroNorth. I see why there may be priority for doing work [there] rather than [here].”

Andrew Lynch, Chief Design Officer for QueensLink, argued that a strategy where every borough receives some transit expansion would be more holistic. “Every borough deserves something. Queens probably deserves a lot more considering how big it is and the population…but it’s not one versus the other. It’s ‘What does the total picture look like?’”

Larry Penner, a transportation expert, was not shocked by the evaluation.

“The problem is they’re in competition. If you look at the MTA 20-year needs assessment document, there are [many] other groups equally as adamant and as passionate as the QueensLink people are for their particular project.”

Penner also explained that the process of ranking these proposals is rife with political complications.

“A lot of elected officials support projects where they can have ribbon cutting ceremonies and get the support of voters,” he said, and pointed out that the governor, who appoints the MTA’s leadership, has significant sway over such decisions.

Two central issues at hand as the MTA assesses a future for its weakened infrastructure are the threat of severe weather from climate change, and a growing, shifting city population in need of expanded transit options. Ultimately, the document emphasizes that funding for any expansion projects at all remains contingent on the MTA’s process of repairing existing infrastructure.

“As we look ahead 20 years, our most urgent priority is to secure the survival of our existing system by rebuilding its most imperiled infrastructure,” the document reads. “To put it bluntly, unless sufficient resources are made available to address the existing system’s most urgent needs, there cannot be investment in expansion projects.”

Penner, for his part, does not think that QueensLink, nor the Interborough Express, nor any other expansion project should be seriously considered right now.

“It’s definitely not [appropriate] given the tremendous shortfall in safety and state of good repair,” he said.

Queensway in the way

The MTA’s evaluation specifically pointed to QueensWay plans as one reason not to reactivate the train line. A “Special Considerations” section reads: “New York City-owned right-of-way: plans for a linear park along portions of the corridor, creating a challenge for any future transit alternatives.”

The QueensWay plan, a long time competitor to QueensLink, would convert the abandoned rail entirely to parkland, similar to the Highline in Chelsea. In September 2022, Mayor Adams pledged $35 million to the plan—much to the dismay of QueensLink supporters, who argued that moving forward with the park would create an obstacle to ever reactivating the branch for transportation use. Several statements from City Hall spokespeople, elected officials, and MTA officials throughout the following year denied that moving forward with Queensway funding would preclude the revival of the train line.

In a statement following the needs assesment’s release, Rick Horan, Executive Director at QueensLink, said his team had “always been skeptical” of these reassurances. “Today, that skepticism has turned into grave confirmation,” he said in the statement.

Adams announcing $35 million in funding to QueensWay in 2022.

The organization Friends of Queensway provided the following statement: “The objective analysis released in the MTA’s Needs Assessment is consistent with multiple other studies done on rail reactivation over 60 years in concluding that it would be extremely expensive, have little actual impact on mobility as compared to other regional transit projects, and would have negative impacts on the environment and quality of life. The sends a clear message on the best use of the Rockaway Beach Branch line at this time. The parks and trails QueensWay project is ready for implementation and would not harm any effort to reactivate the site for rail in the future should the government decide to do so.”

Data divergence

The MTA’s report came up with contrasting numbers to QueensLink’s: whereas the transit advocacy group stated in a press release that 47,000 daily riders would benefit from the plan (a number they pulled from the MTA’s own 2019 feasibility study of the train route), the MTA now puts that number at 39,000. QueensLink also said that the train would save riders an average of 30 minutes per round trip, while the MTA said only four minutes would be saved. And while QueensLink’s assessment put the estimated cost of the project at $3.5 billion, the MTA listed it as $5.9 billion (a decrease from its 2019 estimate of $8.1 billion, which QueensLink hotly contested).

“There was so little information provided in the needs assessment that we requested background data from the MTA so we have something to analyze,” Horan said. “All we have are conclusions that don’t make sense to us, so unless we get some data so we have some idea as to how these conclusions were reached, we’re really flying blind.”

QueensLink’s own numbers were calculated by TEMS, a transportation consulting firm they commissioned to produce a study in response to the MTA’s also-pessimistic 2019 feasibility study of the train route.

What’s next?

Horan explained that QueensLink has long been asking for the city or state government to pursue an Environmental Impact Statement or Economic Impact Statement about the project, and that it’s still needed. Anderson and Lynch also emphasized the importance of such studies. “Commission a real study,” Anderson said. “Not a study where you have already set it before the pencils are picked up.”

Penner said that pressuring Queens elected officials to channel funds into these studies would be strategic.

“If the QueensLink people want to hold elected officials accountable—any elected official could provide the MTA with seed money to advance the project and go through an environmental review process.”

Anderson argued for increased ferry services and express bus transit from the Rockaway peninsula as an alternative to rail transit.

“If they don’t like QueensLink so much, what is their alternative that people are presenting?” he asked.

Lynch says that despite the MTA’s evaluation, he remains optimistic. “This really doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t change our position, it doesn’t change the overall narrative of the MTA’s feelings towards this project.”

“We’re disappointed,” he continued. “But it’s also, like, I’m not surprised at all. The thing that this project has lacked in the past is a political champion, and projects like this don’t get built without those. But the difference between now and, let’s say, five years ago, is that there’s a lot more support in the community, there’s a lot more support politically. And there’s an understanding that it’s a lot more feasible than people thought…we still have a lot of work to do to build more support for this project in the communities and in Albany, and we’re going to continue on that.”

Planet Fitness to Open Fresh Meadows Location

By Alicia Venter


A new Planet Fitness is set to open in Fresh Meadows.

The new location will be at 6109 190th St. along the Long Island Expressway, and is set to be open in June, according to Dale Paden, Vice President of Marketing, Supreme Fitness Group LLC. The membership presale for the location is set to start on May 1.

Amenities at the club will include state-of-the-art cardio machines and strength equipment, the Planet Fitness 30-Minute Circuit, a fully-equipped Black Card Spa, among other features.

We felt Fresh Meadows was the perfect location for us to open another of our clean and spacious clubs,” Paden said in an email to the Queens Examiner. “We invite everyone to come check out our Judgement Free Zone®. Our membership options are extremely affordable and offer residents of the neighborhood a chance to take advantage of all of our cardio and strength equipment.”

According to their website, the location is set to be open from 5 a.m. through 11 p.m. on weekdays, and 7 a.m. through 7 p.m. on the weekends.

There are currently no prices on the website as the presale for memberships have not started. Nearby clubs, such as the Jamaica location, have plans starting at $10.

NYCFC Willets Point Stadium to Revolutionize Soccer in NYC, says C.O.O.

By Alicia Venter


Jennifer O’Sullivan grew up in an extensively athletic home, spearheaded by her sports-loving father, and played three sports in her home of Clinton, New Jersey.

Soccer was not one of those sports.

However, O’Sullivan now finds herself sitting in a position that can change Major League Soccer (MLS) at its core — to her, there is no better place to do it than Queens.

“The diversity of Queens as a borough cannot be denied,” O’Sullivan, 48, said over a phone interview. “It’s a true example of how the global game of soccer can really be used as a catalyst to bring people together culturally within the community, but also an economic boom for the borough and the city.”

As the C.O.O/Chief Legal & Administrative Officer at New York City Football Club (NYCFC), O’Sullivan has prioritized helping her club find a permanent place in Queens. The Willets Point Stadium, announced by Mayor Adams on Nov. 16, is a privately financed facility set to offer 2,500 affordable homes, a 25,000 seat stadium and a 250-room hotel. It’s expected to be completed in 2024.

Jen O’Sullivan. Photo: Matthew McDermott

O’Sullivan joined NYCFC in April 2020. Her role broadly encompasses running the operational and administrative areas of the business — human resources, IT infrastructure and facilities, navigating some of the contractual relationships with partners and working closely with NYCFC II, the reserve team and minor league affiliate of NYCFC.

Currently, NYCFC has no permanent place to call home. The team has been bouncing around from venue to venue — including Yankees Stadium — for their matches, but with a permanent stadium for their matches, they will be able to focus on the fan experience, and developing the talent of their organization, which is coming off the heels of a championship.

“I think in New York, you have this melting pot of people, many of whom came from nationalities and other areas of the world where the global game of soccer is just a way of life,” O’Sullivan said. “We’re really trying to identify people who have this strong love and passion for the game and say, ‘It’s okay for you to have your Mexican home team that you follow, but we can be your time here in New York,’”

MLS is a relatively young league in the United States, founded in 1993. NYCFC joined the league eight years ago, and in O’Sullivan’s three years with the organization, she has seen the program grow throughout the five boroughs, with a youth program or organization in approximately 70% of the city. In her time within the industry, she has seen soccer grow in New York City exponentially — instead of wearing NBA jerseys exclusively, her children and her friends are seen boasting soccer jerseys.

The United States hosting the 2024 World Cups, along with the men’s and women’s teams performing well in their performances in the past world cup, will likely add to this excitement around the sport. She hopes that this, plus the hard work of NYCFC to be involved in the community and be a presence beyond on the field, will help turn the occasional fan to an avid one.This involvement includes adding programs to schools and distributing food.

O’Sullivan hopes that the next step for NYCFC will be to add a women’s team and a women’s academy to complement their male teams, as “we see real opportunity in the women’s game as well.”

Despite being so young, she doesn’t want NYCFC to settle in their victory with the stadium — as C.O.O, she expects to continue growing the organization as forward as she can.

“We’re really doing everything we can do to ensure that this stadium journey and the stadium process is successful. Not just for us, but for part of the larger development of Willets Point and the borough of Queens, and growing out what those community initiatives look like,” she said. “If we can be a real catalyst for growth and change on the women’s side of the game, we would welcome that opportunity as well.”

City Council Approves Bill for Simplify Ranked Choice Voting Ballot

By Alicia Venter


The New York City Council voted to approve Intro 696, a bill intended to simplify the ballot used in Ranked Choice Voting elections, on Wednesday, Dec. 7.

In Ranked Choice Voting elections, voters can rank up to five candidates in order of preference instead of casting their vote for only one individual.

New York City uses ranked choice voting in primary and special elections for local offices, with the first Ranked Choice Voting election being held on Feb. 2, 2021 in a special election for Queens Council District 24.

According to the legislation, introduced by Flushing Council Member Sandra Ung, the bill would ensure the following:

  • Contests on the same ballot page are separated from one another in a bold black lines
  • Non-english text can be easily compared to the corresponding English text
  • Each language on the ballot is clearly separated and visually distinct
  • To the extent practicable, instructions regarding ranked choice voting appear in black font on a white background

The bill will specifically replace the form language that the Board of Elections uses for the instructions on Ranked Choice Voting ballots with clearer language using fewer words.

“New Yorkers pulled off the largest Ranked Choice Voting election in the history of the U.S. when they went to the polls in last year’s June primary,” said Ung in a statement. “This new law will simplify the ballot and make it easier to understand, encouraging all voters, especially those with limited English proficiency, to take advantage of the opportunity to rank their preferred candidates and strengthen the democratic process. I want to thank my colleagues in the City Council for passing this legislation, and look forward to these common sense ballot changes being implemented in time for the June 2023 primaries.”

Common Cause, a watchdog group that was one of the founders of Rank the Vote NYC, praised the bill.

Rank the Vote NYC was founded in 2019 to bring Ranked Choice Voting to the city. As it is now part of the electoral process, the group now serves to educate voters and the community on the upcoming changes to local elections.

“Common Cause/NY is thrilled that the City Council swiftly voted and passed Councilwoman Ung’s bill which will build on the successes of Ranked Choice Voting and make the ballot even more voter friendly,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY and Board Chair of Rank the Vote NYC said in a statement. “Ranked choice voting affords voters more choice and more voice and puts power back in the hands of the people, delivering consensus majority winners every time.”

According to an exiting poll conducted by Edison Research through early voting and on Election Day in 2021 (June 12 – June 22) , 83 percent of voters ranked at least two candidates on their ballots in the mayoral primary, and 77 percent of New Yorkers want Ranked Choice Voting in future elections.

The City Council also voted to approve Intro 698, a bill introduced by Ung to codify the Public Service Corps, which will require the Department of Citywide Administrative Services to recruit students from diverse backgrounds and offer internships at a broad range of city agencies.

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