The pages of recent local history are rife with the bold-faced names of politicos and agency heads who have molded, for good or ill, neighborhoods into their current state.
And then there’s folks like Paul Graziano, the latest to join a crowded field in the Democratic Primary for the 19th Council District, which essentially encompasses the Northeast quadrant of the borough.
The 41-year-old’s platform is a relentless promise to maximize the quality of life of his constituency “by hook or by crook.” But really, he’s a grown-up North Flushing kid trying to do right by the neighborhood he’s called home for nearly all his life.
“The 19th is a funny district. It’s not a typical district in the city, if you can call any district typical,” Graziano said. “It’s a very apolitical district. People want to live a nice life. It’s that simple. People want to come home and live without worrying the house next door will turn into a six-family apartment building. That is the bottom line in this district. That is a major governing philosophy in this district.”
For those who know Graziano’s work well, referencing the overdevelopment next door may sound familiar. He is the principal of Associated Cultural Resource Consultants, and the resume on his eponymous website reads like a directory of every major rezoning and historic district created over the last 20 years.
He has spent the last two decades making sure your neighbor doesn’t turn his quaint house into a monstrosity, among other things. But it’s more than that, he says.
“The goal here is to protect this area through whatever means, and no other person that’s running can say they’ve done that. Everybody says ‘you’re the zoning guy,’ but it’s really not just the zoning guy. I learned all this stuff to protect my neighborhood,” he said.
The soon-to-be husband has staked his candidacy on battles with nearly every city agency you can rattle off the top of your head. And it goes beyond his district. His work has taken him outside the bounds of Queens, and even the city, to work from Connecticut to New Jersey.
He has been an advisor to nearly every civic in his neighborhood, including the Whitestone Taxpayers Association, the Broadway-Flushing Homeowners Association and the Northeast Flushing Civic Association, among other groups. Graziano also helped found the Station Road Civic Association, North Flushing Civic Association and Northeast Flushing Civic Association.
The quality-of-life prism would inform every one of the councilman’s decisions, should Graziano earn the title.
To that end, there are a number of issues that fall into the “unfinished business” category that Graziano would immediately stamp out. For example, the full acquisition of all portions of Udalls Cove, parts of which are still in private hands, would be achieved through eminent domain.
Same goes for the creation of a much-needed fourth public high school in the district. Graziano noted an area by the Bayside Long Island Rail Road station currently mapped for industrial use could be acquired and become the home to a much-needed high school.
The state of the 19th District’s education system appalls Graziano.
“When I hear that district 25 is being designated a district in need, my jaw hit the ground,” he said, adding he supports the revocation of mayoral control and dispersal of that power back to communities — something reflective of the lessons learned from the now-defunct Board of Education.
“Every district operates differently. What works for Bayside doesn’t work for Brownsville,” he said. “You can’t have one standard because every area has its own needs.”
The same need-based approach would guide his assessment of the budget, which Graziano lambasted as laced with sweetheart deals and a tax subsidy system that allows for corporate welfare.
“I believe there is an enormous amount of money given away to developers and corporations, essentially corporate welfare,” he said. “We need to be in a situation where we can look at everything. All of the deals that have been made that take up X amount of the percentage of the budget, to see if they can be renegotiated.”
Graziano’s approach to issues like economic development at the local business level, as well as safety, reflects a practicality that he says account for the big and little picture. He opposes stop and frisk, which he believes is a civil rights violation, but believes more cops should be doing targeted foot patrols. The same goes for revitalizing business strips around the district, which he suggests could be improved through incentivized upgrades.
But constituent requests and service are Graziano’s top priorities, regardless of his own idealogical leanings.
“Find out what your constituents want,” he said. “ The next thing you want to do is talk with the business community and get them what they want. The last thing you want to do is pay attention to your own political philosophy.”