The Juniper Park Civic Association is calling on City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to publicly censure Councilman Charles Barron for his conduct during the March 31 Public Siting Subcommittee Meeting regarding the proposed Maspeth high school at 74th Street and 57th Avenue. Before any attendees had testified, Councilman Barron went on a rant about the race of the audience, assuming that all were there to demand local zoning for the high school. He used words like “segregationist,” “turning back time to the 1950s” and stated that we were demanding to have a high school in our “white neighborhood” locally zoned to educate our “white children only.” He then left the hearing and never came back.
“The position of the Juniper Park Civic Association is that this is an inappropriate location for an 1100-seat public high school because of traffic, transit and parking concerns as well as over-saturation due to the presence of two other schools within 4 blocks,” said Robert Holden, President of the Juniper Park Civic Association, which represents 1650 families in the Maspeth-Middle Village area. “We are also opposed to the use of eminent domain to site this school when there are viable alternative sites available that are closer to subways.”
Not one person at the hearing spoke in favor of locally zoning the school. There were more than 20 speakers, and all but one spoke against the location of the school based on the previously mentioned problems. One attendee spoke in favor of the school but stated it would be acceptable to her even if it were to not be locally zoned. Community Board 5 District Manager Gary Giordano recited his board’s list of stipulations that would be required in order for their “yes” vote to not become a “no”.
The only person who spoke adamantly about locally zoning the school was Council Member Elizabeth Crowley. She brought this subject up multiple times while questioning representatives from the School Construction Authority and the Department of Education. While we do not agree with her position on the school, we know she is pushing for local zoning because she feels it would be in the best interests of the community to have a high school within walking distance of her constituents, not because of racial prejudice.
Tony Nunziato, JPCA Executive Board Member and member of the Maspeth Chamber of Commerce said, “The people who testified at the hearing took time out of their busy lives and some took the day off from work – without pay – to attend. Testifying before the City Council is part of the democratic process. Those sacrificing their time to protect their community should not be subject to name-calling by an out-of-control council member who practices racial profiling.” Sadly, during the hearing, other council members stated that this type of behavior is common on the part of Council Member Barron.
JPCA Secretary Christina Wilkinson stated, “Council Speaker Christine Quinn must take swift public action against Mr. Barron for his unacceptable conduct. Citizens of this city should never be subject to intimidation and harassment by a member of an elected body that is supposed to be working on their behalf. And a public hearing should not be tainted by the racial prejudices of those who are supposed to be listening to all perspectives with an open mind.”
In addition to censure, JPCA is calling for Councilman Barron to apologize to those who testified as well as to Council Member Elizabeth Crowley.