Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica), clad in a grey suit and purple tie, sat back in a chair in his district office on Tuesday to meet with members of the media and take the opportunity to tout his accomplishments of the last year and set priorities for the future.
He also officially announced that he will be seeking re-election this year and hinted at whom he might support in the run for Queens Borough president.
One of the big issues of the past year that was of major concern to his constituents, Meeks said, was the plan to privately develop part of the land at the St. Albans VA campus. In the spirit of bi-partisanship, he and Rep. Peter King (R-Nassau) were able to pass the Veterans Care Act, which killed the project.
“We got the VA secretary saying that the process is dead, that he’s not going to look to do anything there, nor can he, or should he,” Meeks said. “The issue going forward in 2012 is can we now figure out how we can get an appropriations of some kind ... so that we can build a full-service hospital for the veterans.”
Last year, Meeks said he spent a lot of time in Washington, trying to protect Dodd-Frank reforms that were made. The legislation, passed in 2010, aimed to promote the financial stability of the country by improving accountability and transparency in the financial system. It also sought to put an end to the “too big to fail” mentality, bailouts and abusive financial services practices.
One of the key aspects of the legislation, according to Meeks, was the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, but it was also what critics have said prevented it from accomplishing its purpose. The CFPB was not able to move forward in the manner that they’d hoped because it didn’t have a leader, Meeks said. President Obama’s nomination of Richard Cordray to be the group’s new director has been at a stalemate since it was filibustered in the Senate in December.
“We are looking forward in 2012 to having this bureau functioning because it’s critical to constituents and individuals in the 6th Congressional District, Meeks said, noting that Southeast Queens is the epicenter of the foreclosure crisis and that the agency could help people stay in their homes.
In the next year, Meeks said it is important to push for smaller government and balance the budget, but said he is aware that that could result in the loss of a lot of federal, state and city jobs. Such losses could severely impact Meeks’ heavily middle-class district and might cause a second wave of people losing their home.
But there is plenty of room for job creation in the district, particularly at JFK, where Delta Airlines has a $1.2 billion project in the works to rebuild its terminal, something Meeks said would help turn that airport back into the gateway of America as it was 60 years ago when it first opened.
The lawmaker said he was also excited by the governor’s recent announcement in his State of the State address, that he supports the construction of a state-of-the-art convention center at Aqueduct.
“That to me is a very exciting piece,” Meeks said. “We see what’s taken place already over at Aqueduct with the racino. It has created a lot of jobs for people in the 6th District and throughout New York City and the New York City region.”
He said a convention center would create thousands of jobs, bring tourists to the borough and make Queens more relevant to the city’s overall economy — all while not dipping into taxpayer dollars. The initial proposal calls for the project to be funded and constructed by Genting, which already operates a hugely successful racino there.
Meeks was also eager to discuss rebuilding the economy through the expansion of foreign trade. He successfully advocated for the passage of trade bills with Colombia, South Korea and Panama as part of the president’s export initiative, allowing the United States to send more goods to these countries than it had in the past.
On a similar note, this year Meeks hopes the country will create a better and closer relationship with Russia, which is of particular interest to the lawmaker as he is the ranking Democrat on the sub-committee of Foreign Affairs of Europe and Eurasia. Russia was recently voted into the World Trade Organization, which is a substantial step forward, according to Meeks, because past problems with Russia had been the result of the corruption and lack of transparency.
“The key is, we want rules,” Meeks said. “By them being accepted into the WTO, they now have to play by the rules and if we have rules in place then we want to be able to secure our companies who want to export things to Russia, so we can create more jobs by our folks manufacturing and exporting more there.”
Asked whether he believes that the United States should take military actions to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, Meeks said such a step would be premature. Rather, he believes that pressure through imposing sanctions on Iran needs to continue because that seems to be working.
At the meeting Meeks also hinted at who he might support in the race for borough president in 2013. Although he said there were a lot of worthy possible candidates and that it was too early to make an official endorsement, he praised City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) for his numerous contributions to the Southeast Queens community and beyond.
“I’ve gotten to know him pretty well and worked closely with him,” Meeks said. “I think he would be a strong candidate should he choose to run.”