Sparks flew between Queens borough president candidates state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) at a Monday forum in Jackson Heights.
The topic of the night was sustainability but it shifted briefly when Avella accused Vallone of receiving assistance via text messages from volunteer supporters at the forum at Community Methodist Church.
Avella later said he didn’t accuse Vallone of cheating, but thought Vallone and another borough president candidate, Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), who also had his phone out, should put them away.
“Even if you aren’t getting texted the answer, it’s rude,” Avella said at a later interview. “You are supposed to be listening. We were taking questions from the audience.”
Vallone said that he was tweeting and arranging with his daughter how she would get home.
“I would rather be engaging with the public [via twitter] than listen to Tony,” Vallone said during a later interview.
“I think it’s a pretty pathetic accusation against two of his former colleagues,” Vallone said.
Comrie was not available for comment.
The other candidates on the panel kept the proceedings on track, and it soon became clear that they agree on issues more frequently than not.
In addition to Avella, Comrie and Vallone, the panel consisted of fellow Democrat former Councilwoman Melinda Katz, and Republican businessman Tony Arcabascio, a technology professional.
Democratic businessman Everly Brown was a no-show.
A big topic, as it often is, was development in and beautification of Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
No candidate backed a plan to construct a 25,000-seat stadium at the site.
Upon his arrival, Comrie, who heads the Council’s Land Use Committee and was at a rally for affordable housing at Willets Point, was quick to say, “Soccer is not going to happen.”
Comrie said he also supports what the United States Tennis Association is trying to do, but believes the organization needs to do more to financially support the park.
Vallone added he is in favor of developing FMCP-adjacent Willets Point, but doesn’t support the plan to construct a 1.4-million-square-foot shopping mall on a CitiField parking lot that’s parkland.
Borough President Helen Marshall approved the proposed mall on Tuesday. It will now go before the City Council.
As for Willets Point, Arcabascio said, “No! This has got to stop at some point.”
Avella concurred, calling the plans “an absolute disgrace.”
The USTA, which appears to be getting closer to its aim of expansion, “doesn’t have to have any additional land. It’s all about aesthetics,” Avella said. In reference to the mall, he said, “Shame on any politician who votes for this.”
Avella would like to see more bike lanes, but also wants more community input on where they go.
Katz’s spoke of increasing the Parks Department budget and recycling as well as voicing concerns about bikes on Queens Boulevard, dubbed the “Boulevard of Death.”
Last spring an MTA official at a Community Board 2 bike lane meeting said the agency did not plan on putting a bike lane there because of the congestion.
On several occasions, the candidates were perplexed by questions posed by members of the audience — which ranged from the city’s stop and frisk program and lack of sufficient trash cans on commercial streets to noise pollution and speeding in school zones — inviting them, at times, to meet privately to further discuss the issues.
Vallone reiterated his support of stop and frisk, as did Comrie, who said, “We need to keep the community safe. Stop and frisk cannot be eliminated.”
Comrie suggested that the problem with the current policy is that “people are living in fear” because of how they are treated by members of the NYPD. “The problem is the administration of the program,” Comrie said.
None of the candidates seemed to resonate strongly.
Flushing resident Stephen Bauman, who said prior to the start of the forum, “Right now, I’m leaning against all of them,” apparently wasn’t swayed.
“Nobody came through particularly well,” he said.
Jacqueline Sung of Jackson Heights, who came to the forum to be “somewhat of a participant and know who is actually the best for the people of Queens,” was most impressed by “the simpatico relationship between the two Tonys.”
Harvey Simon, of Sunnyside, a member of the advisory council of the Flushing Meadows Corona Park Conservancy, said most of the candidates offered “only cursory sound bites” about many of the issues and said their “disconnect gives me pause.”