It was supposed to be a casual breakfast at Antun’s in Queens Village where City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) could hear community concerns. But when the talk last Thursday turned to the issue of flooding, things got a bit ugly between her and Assemblywoman Vivian Cook (D-Jamaica).
Cook said she favored the city pumping area wells to lower the groundwater table and reduce flooding, but, she said, she did not want the excess emptied into Baisley Pond, which is in her district and near her house.
“Hell will freeze over before I let them pump that water down into Baisley Pond Park,” Cook said firmly.
The city, however, had not planned to pump groundwater into the pond.
Cook, well-known for her feisty nature, then went on to criticize what she considers the city’s glutted bureaucracy and the ineffective 311 system.
“You can’t talk to a commissioner, you can’t talk to anyone in this city about anything and 311 is not acceptable, OK,” Cook said garnering some applause from the crowd. “You are the president of the City Council, so you know the city has gone to hell as far as getting anything done. We have bicycle lanes everywhere. We have Rockaway Boulevard, a major truck route, with obstructions.”
Later, Cook said the “obstructions” she was referring to were heavy traffic and double-parked cars.
Quinn, who had already promised to get community leaders a meeting with DEP Commissioner Carter Strickland, took the criticisms as a personal attack, even though Cook insisted they weren’t, and fired back.
“You are going to have to be quiet for a second, because I listened to you,” Quinn said. “You are going to get a meeting with the DEP commissioner at the table.”
Then Cook, attempting to ease the tension, praised Quinn as a responsive lawmaker and repeated that she did not think the speaker, a leading candidate for mayor this year, is to blame for the city’s problems. The spat, which only lasted a few minutes, ended in laughter and a high-five with Quinn joking that the city should pump the borough’s excess water into Cook’s backyard.
Many serious issues besides flooding were also discussed at the breakfast. Community Board 13 has been trying for years to get the city to cut the 105th Precinct in half and establish a new precinct, the 116th, but members have been turned down time and time again due to budget constraints. And Quinn’s answer was no different.
She said finding a physical building to house the precinct would be less problematic than coming up with the funds to hire more police officers to staff it. (A civic leader informed her that the 105th already has two stations, one of which would house the 116th). And Quinn said she wouldn’t want to shift manpower from other areas in the city because that would be detrimental to those communities.
In response to other concerns, Quinn vowed to examine regulations governing 24-hour stores, gaming parlors, pawn shops, food carts and food trucks — all unpopular among residents in CB 13’s district. She also said she would work with her council colleagues to try and alleviate some of the red tape associated with opening a small business in the city
Quinn praised community boards by stating that they are very important to preserving neighborhood identity, and she praised the leaders of CB 13 for their tireless work and devotion, stating that she knows sometimes serving can be a thankless job.
“There is some sense that in government, everything should get cut the same, which I actually don’t really agree with it, because different things are different,” Quinn said. “And the community board budget is so small that cutting even a small percentage of it can leave you with almost nothing, and that has always been a priority for us in the council — to try and prevent that.”