One of the more shameful political press conferences we ever witnessed took place in Assembly Member Marge Markey's office on Monday September 27, 2010. After 10 years of pathetic inaction by several elected officials, Markey decided that it would be a good time to call a press conference announcing that the through truck route from Grand Avenue and Flushing Avenue would be eliminated in the near future. Markey stood by with Queens Democratic Party boss and Congressman Joe Crowley and his cousin, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley.
Why would these elected officials call a press conference a month before November elections on a subject that has plagued the town of Maspeth for well over a decade? It just so happens that Joe Crowley is facing a rare challenge to his 12-year reign in Congress. His problem is compounded with a messy congressional ethics probe into his shady and possibly illegal fundraising techniques. So it's important to appear to the public that he is actually doing something other than lining his campaign coffers with questionable Wall Street dollars.
Markey is facing the most serious challenge of her career political life from Maspeth civic leader, Tony Nunziato. She needs to create the perception of doing the people's work. That is not an easy job if you are Marge Markey since for the past 10 plus years the only thing she has mastered is the art of the photo op!
The JPCA Monkey Wrench
However, Markey and her two fellow machine politicians didn't bank on 17 members of the Juniper Park Civic Association (JPCA) attending her hastily planned press event. Markey's press release, j22sent to the JPCA by another politician, included three other elected officials who didn't show; Congressman Anthony Weiner, State Senator Joe Addabbo and Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi. They all had enough sense to skip this circus.
As a nervous Markey stumbled through a vague and often confusing explanation of the repackaged plan, JPCA members held protest signs chastising Markey and company's timing and motives for the press conference. "It's a great first step," that DOT is conducting a Maspeth Bypass and Intersection Normalization Study, changing the designation of Grand and Flushing Avenues limiting trucks to these streets only for local deliveries or for trips originating within the adjacent streets. Markey couldn't explain when and how the change in the truck route map would be implemented but took most of the credit for getting it done. With no representative from the Department of Transportation (DOT), and no press release from the agency, this announcement was a blatant and cheap political ploy that demonstrates the little regard these politicians have for their constituents.
All three didn't even have the decency to mention that the Maspeth Truck bypass plan was the brainchild of local businessman, Tony Nunziato. He, along with Frank Principe, pushed Community Board 5 to adopt the plan that would divert truck traffic away from the Grand Avenue commercial district. They also failed to mention that since 2001 the JPCA has been the leading proponent of the plan having organized studies, meetings, publicity and demonstrations and regularly meeting with DOT officials on the matter. The only thing missing from making the Maspeth Truck Bypass plan a reality was political pressure; which is why this press conference was so difficult to stomach.
Even Community Board 5 District Manager Gary Giordano followed the political script by not mentioning Nunziato's role in the bypass plan. Nunziato was a member of CB5 and pushed the plan continuously until disgraced former councilman Dennis Gallagher removed him from the board in 2006.
Give to Joe Crowley's Legal Defense Fund
Joe Crowley, who resides in Virginia, also stumbled his way through an uninspired presentation as some JPCA members held signs, "Say it Ain't So, Joe;" referring to his congressional ethics probe. Crowley has been busy holding fundraising events to pay for his legal defense. The NY Daily News reported that Crowley has already shelled out $40,000 for lawyers to fight off the ethics probe.
After Joe Crowley's uncomfortable speech, his cousin Elizabeth showed her inexperience with a totally confusing explanation of the plan. In her two years as our councilmember, Elizabeth has demonstrated time and time again that she is a political opportunist who continually places politics and special interests ahead of community. I guess Elizabeth didn't think we would notice that she called the March 5th press conference on trucks but let Markey run this one for obvious reasons.
However, Elizabeth Crowley embarrassed herself by stating that the through-truck route was "recently discovered." Obviously she never read the 2003 comprehensive report produced by the advocacy group, Transportation Alternatives; and the Juniper Park Civic Association. The first recommendation of the 6- month study was that the "through-truck route" on Grand & Flushing Avenues should be eliminated. Apparently Crowley also hasn't been listening. The JPCA briefed her and her staff several times on the issue. Crowley also failed to mention at the press conference that JPCA has been fighting for over a decade to get trucks off of Grand Avenue.
In 2005 the JPCA was threatening to protest the deadly truck problem on Grand Avenue with a massive demonstration led by parents with baby carriages. Mayor Bloomberg, who was running for reelection sent then DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall to meet with JPCA leaders. She promised us that the Bypass Plan would be implemented by 2006. However Ms. Weinshall left DOT shortly afterwards. DOT later announced a major plan to study truck routes but still assured the community that the Maspeth Bypass Plan would move forward. At the time Markey and Joe Crowley didn't even bother to send representatives to participate in the meetings.
Markey was presented with the "local truck route plan" recommendation by the Juniper Park Civic Association in Sept. 2003 and didn't even have the courtesy to respond to our report. We doubt she ever even looked at it.
The real story here is that Marge Markey and Joe Crowley did nothing to bring the truck bypass plan to fruition. They sat on it for 10 years while the community board and the civic association did ALL the work.
So what emerges is that this Markey press conference on September 27th in her luxurious 69th Street office, paid for by taxpayers, is a political ploy to give the perception of achievement from elected officials who have done nothing for the people. The absence of the Department of Transportation at the event supports the conclusion that the whole press conference was the "doing business as usual" sham of the Markey, Crowley et al camps. The question from the local press should have been "isn't this the Maspeth Bypass plan re-packaged?"
DOT had already committed to implement the Bypass Plan. In order to do that the through truck route would have to be changed. So this press conference essentially was called as an opportunity for Markey to spin it in a way that she and her fellow clubhouse politicians could take credit for something that was moving along anyway.
Assembly Member Markey and Congressman Crowley should be ashamed of themselves. Their lack of energy in working for their constituents has put the Maspeth community in a dangerous position with trucks using Grand Avenue throughout the day.
In the last 10 years there have been several deaths from truck traffic, deaths that could have been avoided if we had elected officials who worked with the community to get the trucks diverted away from downtown Grand Avenue.
Markey and Joe Crowley certainly appeared like snake oil salesmen at the press conference; and bad ones at that. However they have blood on their hands from the many people who have been struck and killed by Grand Avenue traffic or who have suffered and died from the toxic levels of diesel pollution for over 10 years.
We are hoping that Election Day 2010 will result in a housecleaning of career politicians like we have here in Maspeth who do nothing for the people.
But please, don't take our word for it. Please watch part I & part II of this press conference on YouTube.com. The links to the press conference can be found on www.junipercivic.com.
And please mark your calendar to make sure you vote on Election Day: Tuesday, November 2, 2010.