City Council Candidates on the Issues: Costa Constantinides, District 22

Streetsblog continues our series on City Council candidates with a look at the race for District 22 in Queens, which covers Astoria, Ditmars-Steinway, and northern Jackson Heights. The seat has been held by Peter Vallone, Jr. since 2002; he is now running for Queens Borough President.

City Council District 22 candidate Costa Constantinides.

Two Democratic primary candidates – Democratic District Leader Costa Constantinides and anti-crime activist Antonio Meloni – are joined by a Republican candidate, former New York Young Republican Club President Daniel Peterson. Danielle De Stefano is also listed as a candidate by the New York State Board of Elections.

Streetsblog sent questionnaires to the campaigns to get a better understanding of where the candidates stand on transit, traffic safety, and transportation policy. We begin in alphabetical order with responses from Costa Constantinides and will run Daniel Peterson’s answers in a separate post. Antonio Meloni responded to Streetsblog’s questionnaire, but did not provide answers for publication. Danielle De Stefano did not respond.

Streetsblog: A proposal for a pedestrian plaza at 30th Avenue, 33rd Street and Newtown Avenue was defeated by opposition from Community Board 1 and Council Member Vallone. Do you think public plazas, like the ones installed in other neighborhoods throughout the city, provide a benefit to the community?

Costa Constantinides: Generally, I think that public plazas provide tangible benefits to their neighborhoods. With a few exceptions, many of the communities in western Queens don’t have park space within walking distance. Without shared public spaces where friends and neighbors can congregate, a community has no place to vent and breathe. As a Council member, I will work with the community to create more public spaces that meet the needs of both residents and small business owners.

SB: Astoria Boulevard is slated to receive Select Bus Service improvements to speed bus travel. Could other parts of the neighborhood benefit from things like dedicated bus lanes?

CC: As far as I’m concerned, improving our public transit options is a no-brainer. Astoria and western Queens have long had to deal with poor air quality partially as a result of major highways and thoroughfares within our neighborhood, as well as general traffic congestion New Yorkers know all too well. One of the corridors which is a perennial contributor to both these problems is Astoria Boulevard and the Grand Central Parkway, so finding a way to improve the flow of public transit while cutting down on emissions from engine idling is a very positive step in the right direction. Beyond Astoria Boulevard, I believe that 21st Street should be considered for SBS in the future. With many people interested in moving to the condominiums and other new developments springing up along that corridor, an efficient bus system serving parts of the neighborhood outside of convenient walking distance to the N/Q train line should be on the table. Finally, District 22 now covers northern Jackson Heights, an area that has long been an afterthought, unfortunately, in our city’s transit plans. An SBS route that serves the people of East Elmhurst and northern Jackson Heights should be seriously considered.

SB: How can the Council best use its powers to reduce vehicular deaths and ensure traffic justice citywide?

CC: The City Council has tremendous oversight powers. As a Councilmember, I would work with the Transportation Committee and Chairman Vacca to hold the DOT more accountable. Although Chairman Vacca and I don’t see eye to eye on every component of transit policy, I think he has done a very good job overall chairing the committee, and I look forward to working with him. The City Council’s first priority now needs to be reducing pedestrian deaths at the hands of errant drivers. The tragic death of Tenzin Drudak is only the most recent chapter in a long sad story of New Yorkers’ lives cut short by something preventable, and as Chairman Vacca correctly said in a hearing last year, driving in this city should be a privilege and not a right. I would support any effort by the Transportation Committee and the City Council at large to pressure the NYPD and the DOT into more vigorously prosecuting traffic fatalities.

SB: The MTA is a state agency, but what actions would you like to see the City Council take to fund and expand transit service?

CC: A well-funded and well-functioning MTA is essential for the growth of NYC, and I am personally tired of hearing about how we have to continue to “do more with less.” As a resident of one of the so-called “outer-boroughs,” I know how important it is to revitalize and improve our transit infrastructure. While the agency has its flaws, it has also been hobbled by budget cuts at the state and local levels. For example, during last year’s budget negotiations, the Republicans in the State Senate threatened to zero out the MTA’s capital budget. While the funding was eventually restored, this cavalier attitude towards the lifeblood of our city is unacceptable at any level. As Hurricane Sandy demonstrated, moreover, real lives could be on the line should New York fall down on its obligations to maintain its public transit. For several decades now, the City’s contribution to the MTA has flatlined, as the IBO’s 2008 report shows. This cannot continue. I am supportive of any project or idea that would restore the City’s contribution to the MTA, and as a Council member, I will also work with the next administration to appoint more transit-friendly people to the MTA Board.