Ranking members of the Juniper Park Civic Association (JPCA) publicly slammed "clubhouse" politicians who allegedly put their own self-interests before the people they represent during the civic group's meeting last Thursday night, Mar. 8, at Our Lady of Hope School in Middle Village.
Robert Holden, JPCA president, specifically railed against Rep. Joseph Crowley, who is also the head of the Queens County Democratic Party, for overseeing a "corrupt system" that has led to the gerrymandering of the borough in order to ensure the re-election of established incumbents with little or no opposition.
Two other ranking members of the group—Treasurer Tony Nunziato and Sergeant-at-arms Manny Caruana—also slammed the proposed realignment of the 30th Assembly District seat represented by Margaret Markey. Claiming that the legislator has failed to represent them adequately and the district itself covers other western Queens neighborhoods with different needs, they pushed for the creation of a separate Assembly district for residential areas of Maspeth, Middle Village and part of Woodside.
Toward the end of the session, things turned testy when a member of the civic group spoke out against the ranking members' opinions about local lawmakers, past and present, in an editorial published in the JPCA's magazine, The Juniper Berry, which criticized Crowley. Holden and others defended its position, saying that the organization maintains its right to criticize anyone it believes is misrepresenting or harming the neighborhood.
Criticizing the 'clubhouse'
Holden criticized the proposed realignment of Assembly and State Senate districts as proposed earlier this year by the Legislative Task Force on Redistricting and Reapportionment (LATFOR), claiming that the lines give an unfair advantage to incumbents and political parties.
"We've had that in Queens County for far too long," he said, charging that Representative Crowley and his cousin, City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, "are an example of this clubhouse atmosphere in Queens."
Holden claimed that Representative Crowley was "handed the Congressional seat" from the late-Rep. Thomas Manton, who declined to seek re-election in 1998. The civic president claimed that after Manton—the former head of the Queens County Democratic Party—secured the petitions to get on the ballot, he announced his retirement, which allowed him to pick Crowley to take his place on the ballot.
Since winning the Congressional seat in 1998, Holden stated that Representative Crowley has run unopposed in many elections since. He went further to claim that the legislator keeps his primary residence in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. rather than in his own Congressional district.
"This is the kind of corrupt system that we have," Holden told residents.
The civic president also took aim at Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, who was elected to the Assembly seat previously occupied by Joseph Crowley. Holden stated that Markey hasn't visited the JPCA in over 10 years and, up until recent election cycles, ran unopposed every two years for the seat.
"We're not against Democrats—we are Democrats," Holden said of himself and many other ranking members of the JPCA. "At the Juniper Park Civic, we don't care what party you're from as long as you do right by us."
Time to go separate ways
Regarding Markey's 30th Assembly District seat, Nunziato and Caruana charged that the way the district is configured puts residents in the Maspeth and Middle Village portions of the district at an electoral disadvantage.
The JPCA members displayed a map of the 30th Assembly District; Nunziato charged that it is gerrymandered to such an extent that it resembles a sitting dog. In addition to covering parts of Maspeth and Middle Village, the district includes portions of Woodside, Sunnyside, Long Island City and Astoria.
Caruana claimed that the major difference between Maspeth and Middle Village and other areas of the district is the housing stock. While Maspeth and Middle Village are largely comprised of one- and two-family homes, he stated, the other areas are comprised largely of apartment houses.
Nunziato indicated that, as a result of this difference, the areas of Maspeth and Middle Village are "not represented" well since they are outnumbered. He charged that Maspeth and Middle Village should have its own Assembly district, claiming that the two neighborhoods have "the same types of houses and the same issues."
"We have the population to fill it up and make the required quota," said Nunziato, who unsuccessfully challenged Markey in the 2008 and 2010 elections. "What does a two family home in Middle Village have to do with the Woodside Houses?"
"Markey doesn't need us," Holden added, noting that while Maspeth and Middle Village residents voted against her by a "2-1" margin, other parts of the district went in her favor and propelled her to re-election.
Caruana claimed that Markey also secures the support of many apartment housing groups in Woodside, Sunnyside, Astoria and Long Island City by sponsoring events and supporting tenants organizations financially.
"This is how she gets her votes," he charged. "This is disgusting."
The new 30th Assembly District proposed by LATFOR includes more areas of Middle Village up to Woodhaven Boulevard. Nunziato called on residents to contact Gov. Andrew Cuomo and urge him to veto the LATFOR proposals.
Upset over editorial
Joe Buscemi, a member of the civic group, took the microphone at the end of the meeting to criticize an editorial condemning the Crowleys which was published in the March/April 2012 edition of The Juniper Berry.
The editorial, titled "The Smell of Tammany Hall Lingers In Queens County Today," slammed "some of the biggest clubhouse politicians in the entire city who hold little or no regard for the views of their constituents, and will stop at nothing to do whatever is best for themselves..." Joseph and Elizabeth Crowley were criticized in the editorial as was Walter H. Crowley, former City Council member and Elizabeth Crowley's father whom the JPCA editorial noted was "appointed" by the late Borough President Donald Manes "to fill the City Council seat for our area."
The article also noted that Walter H. Crowley's wife, Mary, was appointed to fill the seat after Walter Crowley's sudden death in September 1985. The editorial stated that her "appointment demonstrates how little regard the Queens Democratic Party machine had for the residents of Queens County."
Buscemi told the civic group's leadership not to "take shots at people who can't defend themselves." "Walter H. Crowley should never have been in that article," said Buscemi, who stated that he was a friend of the late City Council member and his family. He later called for Holden to resign during an exchange with the civic leader.
Holden defended the civic group's position in the editorial, stating that in the organization's opinion, the current political atmosphere in Queens resembled the corruption of Tammany Hall during the 19th and early 20th centuries. He also stated that the civic group has a right to speak out against those who it believes does not serve the community's best interests.
"Anybody who reads The Juniper Berry knows that we'll go after anybody who we feel is not doing right by the community," Holden said. He later told Buscemi, "You can get up and say that Elizabeth Crowley is wonderful, and that's your right. And we have the right to say that they're not good."
'You don't have to be a member'
The civic president also accused Buscemi of being a "fan" sent to speak at the behest of Lydon Sleeper, Council Member Crowley's chief of staff who was in attendance at the meeting. Buscemi denied the accusation.
"You don't have to be a member," JPCA First Vice President Lorraine Sciulli told Buscemi. "Don't pay your dues. We don't need you. There's no spin in anything we write. That's why we don't get any funding from any elected officials. You'll never see a lie in The Juniper Berry, trust me. ... Anything we write is the truth."
Candidate makes an introduction
Assemblyman Rory Lancman, who previously announced his candidacy for Congress, stopped by to introduce himself to local voters. Though the Congressional district lines have yet to be finalized, a plan submitted by a federal judge last week would create a central Queens district that includes Lancman's residence and areas of Maspeth and Middle Village.
Based in Jamaica and Richmond Hill, Lancman previously served as a member of Community Board 8 for 16 years and was involved in a local civic group. "If the district works out, I'll run here," he added, indicating that he hoped to return to a future JPCA meeting to provide additional information about himself and his campaign.
As reported in last week's issue, the Ninth Congressional District—which covers Maspeth and Middle Village and is represented by Rep. Bob Turner—will be eliminated in the plan created by Federal Magistrate Roanne Mann. Maspeth and Middle Village are part of a proposed new Sixth Congressional District, which includes parts of Ridgewood, Glendale, Forest Hills, Rego Park and areas of eastern and central Queens.
'Our voices will be shut'
State Sen. Joseph Addabbo elaborated on the ongoing wrangle over the redistricting of state legislative seats. He charged that lawmakers violated a pledge by New York Uprising to create an independent redistricting panel and instead allowing "politics" to once again influence the process.
In particular, he slammed the State Senate redistricting proposal, which includes the creation of a 63rd seat in upstate New York and pits eight incumbent Democratic senators against each other.
"It's parties before people, and no matter what party you're from, that's wrong," Addabbo said. He hoped that Governor Cuomo would follow through on his earlier pledge to veto the proposed redistricting plan.
If that were to happen, the new district lines would wind up being decided by the state courts. "The court has to do what the state legislative leaders couldn't do, but our voices will be shut," the senator lamented.
The next Juniper Park Civic Association meeting is scheduled to take place on Thursday night, May 3, at 7:45 p.m. at Our Lady of Hope School, located at the corner of Eliot Avenue and 71st Street in Middle Village. For more information, call 1-718-651-5865 or visit their website, www.junipercivic.com.