In office a little under a year, Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) says he has already addressed 11,000 questions and complaints from constituents.
Elected last year to fill the vacancy created by Grace Meng’s moving on to Congress, Kim previously worked for elected officials in city and state positions. He is proud of his first year in elected office, especially following in the footsteps of Meng, who was known for working on constituent complaints.
In an interview Monday in the Queens Chronicle office in Rego Park, Kim said affordable housing is a big issue with residents as well as dealing with benefit programs from the state such as HEAP, which provides home energy assistance, and STAR, which offers savings on school property taxes to homeowners.
The new assemblyman says people are most concerned about affordable housing because there is so little available in Flushing. “I got 4,000 applications alone for the Macedonia housing project and there will only be 143 units,” he said.
Macedonia Plaza is scheduled to open next March at Union Street and 37th Avenue. It is a project of the adjacent Macedonia AME Church.
The scaling back and delay of affordable housing in the Willets Point redevelopment plan “is a cop out,” Kim said, calling the dearth of such facilities “overwhelming.” But he is optimistic that the new mayor will push for more in Flushing.
Aside from affordable housing, Kim’s main focus is on education and transportation. He has introduced a bill in Albany that would place importance on character development over core curriculum standards.
“It’s unfair of schools that don’t have the resources to be so test-driven,” Kim said. “Students need noncognitive skills too.”
He defines those skills as determination, grit, perseverance, self-control and curiosity, noting that those traits should be rewarded.
“Students need to feel passionate about a subject, not just be there to get a good grade,” he added. “We are feeding the wrong culture. We should be bridging the achievement gap, not widening it”
One transportation issue that has been bugging him even before he was elected is the city’s lack of action over the 149th Street LIRR bridge. It was completed last year but has still not opened for vehicular traffic, only as a pedestrian walkway.
“It’s in litigation between the LIRR and the city for safety issues and has been blocked off for more than three years,” Kim said. “It’s a booming neighborhood, but the city is not stepping up.”
Kim is also working on keeping downtown Flushing clean. He recently started a volunteer effort, supported by Home Depot, to power wash areas in need of it. The first site selected was historic St. George’s Episcopal Church.
The assemblyman has been trying to get the MTA to change its bus routes so that not so many buses make stops around and in front of the church. St. George’s officials have complained that drivers urinate on the property and leave their garbage there.
Meanwhile, volunteers have cleaned the area and will maintain it in the future. “I know of no other church in the city that has a bus stop in front of it,” Kim said. “It’s disrespectful.”
He said his office took the initiative on the matter “so we can change the culture somewhat. It’s an example of how government didn’t stand up and do something about it.”
Kim said the growth of Flushing, with its transit and other infrastructure problems, can be solved, “but we need more resources and it will make Flushing more dynamic.”
“We don’t want a decline in the quality of life. We have to grow in a smart way. We’re working with various organizations to do this.”