Robert Holden (or Bob as he prefers to be called) has served as President of Juniper Park Civic Association since 1990. Bob has decided to run for the City Council, 30th District, and challenge not only the incumbent, Elizabeth Crowley, but also the entire Queens County Democratic Machine led by her cousin, Joe Crowley. I thought this would be a good time to find out what Bob Holden is like as a person and where he stands on the issues facing the electorate of the 30th Council District. This interview took place at Bob Holden's house.
Bob Holden was raised in Maspeth, and today lives around the corner from where he grew up on the Middle Village side of the border. He attended Saint Adalbert School, graduated from Mater Christi High School in Astoria, and was awarded an undergraduate degree from Queens College and graduate degrees from Hunter College. He is currently a professor at the New York City College of Technology in the Communications Design Department. He has been married to his wife, Amy, for 44 years and has three grown children ‒ Bobby, Brian and Jane. Bob is also a grandfather to Christian, Ashley and Parker.
Let us begin with the obvious question, which is, why run for the City Council and challenge Elizabeth Crowley and the Queens County Democratic Machine controlled by Joe Crowley?
I came to the realization that I have a duty to do it because of what you just said: it's the fact that the Queens Democratic Machine is controlled by Joe Crowley, a man who lives in Virginia and not in Queens County and he is the one deciding our future by selecting lackluster candidates, not based upon their ability or talent or intellect, but selecting them solely on whether they're a good party member or not or one of his relatives. That's why I'm stepping forward, even though I've never had any intention of running for public office. I was a CUNY professor for 40 years and am retiring this year. I could be traveling the world and enjoying myself, but I can't leave the district in Elizabeth Crowley's hands for 4 more years.
And by the way, Elizabeth had originally said she would not serve more than eight years in office if elected, and she asked her opponent at the time, Anthony Como, to pledge to do the same. Now she has broken that pledge because she's been grandfathered in to be eligible to run for another four year term. That's quite hypocritical.
Are you prepared for the dirty politics practiced by the Queens County political machine?
I don't think you're ever prepared for it, but I expect it. I expect nasty personal comments about me and my family when they see I'm a formidable opponent and can possibly win. But you know what? I know how to fight.
What do you think your chances of winning are?
I think I have the best shot of any candidate to win against Elizabeth Crowley. Yes, she has a lot more money and she can put out a lot more fliers and she has a bigger staff to do her bidding. And although I'm the underdog facing an incumbent who has been in office for almost nine years, what I do have is a noteworthy record of accomplishments in this neighborhood that I have fought hard to protect, which Elizabeth Crowley has not done.
Do you think you have the qualifications to be a good City Councilman and what are they?
Journalists have described me as a fierce fighter for the neighborhood, and I think I have more than exhibited that over the decades that I've been President of the Civic Association. I mean looking back, it's amazing what I've accomplished. I led the flight on the Glendale/Middle Village homeless shelter on Cooper Avenue. I formed the coalition with other civic leaders and successfully raised over $100,000 and filed a lawsuit, and filed challenges to the Building Department permits, and as a result it has been delayed for years. Elizabeth Crowley, the sitting council person, didn't give one penny to the effort, while most people in the neighborhood gave what they could. And do you know what Elizabeth Crowley did to fight the shelter? She created an online petition, which anybody could have done. That's not what we need from our leaders.
And with the shelter in Maspeth, it is well-documented that I helped lead the fight. I organized it and was at every protest every night for months. Elizabeth Crowley did not show up once. She did not give a dime to the effort either and she did not help raise money. All she did was file a frivolous, ridiculous lawsuit that was thrown out whereas we formed a coalition, we raised money, and we filed an Article 78 which challenged the city. We caused the Mayor so much grief that he changed his policy toward homelessness.
What ideas for legislation would you introduce as council member?
The legislation that I would propose in the City Council would be to allow every neighborhood in New York City to form their own Advisory Board, which would be comprised of talented individuals—business leaders, civic leaders, faith based organizations, etc.—whose objective would be to solve their own area's homeless problem. They could use their expertise, for instance, to set-up mentoring programs to help the homeless get jobs and also help them and their families by finding apartments for them to live. These Advisory Boards would also help fix up the apartments, like painting and repairing them, for instance, and by getting volunteers from the neighborhood to help out. And that's what Mayor De Blasio should have done rather than shoving shelters down our throat.
There are many other things in the Council I would propose. But I certainly wouldn't do what Elizabeth Crowley's been doing, like voting on proposals that make our city less safe, like keeping illegal aliens here in this city who commit a crime, or by keeping ICE out of Riker's Island and the other jails. The idea of sharing information between local and federal agencies is so important. After all, that is why Homeland Security was created after 9/11--to share information between state, local, and federal governments in order to prevent terrorism. So, what we've been seeing is that Elizabeth Crowley has been on the wrong side of this issue since she was elected Council Member.
As you know, your opponent is in favor of closing Riker's Island. Do you think it is a good idea?
It's a ridiculous idea. Why would we want to set-up community jails? To me it's mind boggling that you would blame the building, the Riker's Island complex, for what takes place inside it. It's really the management, the leadership that should be addressed. If the building is not right, then renovate it, and get new management to run it. The only reason why I think Elizabeth Crowley would be for it is that if you look at her donors, and there are quite a few real estate developers, it's known that Riker's Island is a desirable location. It's an island that has a beautiful view of Manhattan and the surrounding areas. Now, isn't it possible that if they close Riker's they could build luxury housing there? Crowley's motives for supporting closure are suspect.
What do you think about the controversy over the Puerto Rican Day Parade regarding the honoring of FALN co-founder Oscar Lopez Rivera?
It's a dangerous decision by Council Member Elizabeth Crowley to support the release of an unrepentant terrorist who was responsible for killing so many people, including police officers! Time and again, Elizabeth Crowley, Chair of the City Council's Committee on Criminal Justice, has sided with the criminal and against justice.
What would you do as Councilman to help small businesses in our community?
I think we all agree that the regulations that small businesses have to contend with are horrendous. On the local scene, our shopping districts are not being considered and addressed. For instance, on Grand Avenue we just had a large complex, Duane Reade, close. That building had a huge parking lot. Now what I would do when a large facility like that becomes available is to create a municipal parking lot, because one of the main problems that the businesses on Grand, Metropolitan, Myrtle and other main avenues have is that there is no parking. The people in these areas rely on their cars to drive when shopping and if they can't park, they will not go to those businesses. They will go to other places instead like malls or even out of the area. Our community residents should be encouraged to shop locally. So, I would create a task force in the neighborhood to deal with this and try and put capital money into creating municipal parking lots in each of the shopping areas located within the 30th District.
What is the one accomplishment you are proudest of as President of the Juniper Park Civic Association after all these years?
I've had many accomplishments, but the one that really stands out to me is when I uncovered the secret plot by Keyspan to sell ‒ and then later stopped them from selling ‒ the land, which is now Elmhurst Park, to The Mattone Group, who was going to build a giant Home Depot store and shopping mall there. Every time I drive past that park it always puts a smile on my face knowing that I did the best I could for the neighborhood and made it a better place to live.
What three qualities would you say describe yourself?
Relentless, competitive, and loyal.
Who were your role models?
Councilman Walter McCaffrey, Councilman Thomas Ognibene, and of course, my wife, Amy, who is my soul mate and love of my life.
What do you enjoy doing when you're not working?
I enjoy reading books about the Civil War and anything about Abraham Lincoln. And I enjoy visiting Civil War battlefield sites. I also love watching baseball and hockey. I'm a big Los Angeles Dodgers fan and a New York Rangers fan. I started rooting for the Dodgers when they were playing in Brooklyn and I have remained loyal ever since.
What would we be surprised to know about Bob Holden?
I think people would be surprised to know what a prankster I am and that I have a great sense of humor and enjoy a good laugh with family and friends. I think you have to laugh to really enjoy life.
It should be noted that Mr. Shapiro repeatedly attempted to interview Council Member Elizabeth Crowley in order to be fair, but neither she nor her campaign responded to his requests.