Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) may not make the most noise of the Democrats running for Queens Borough President. But he includes his demeanor among the tools he says are necessary to lead the borough for the next four years.
“You don’t need to scream and yell to let people know you’re upset about something, or have a passion for getting something done,” the three-term councilman said. “You don’t have to insult someone. I’ve banged on a table. I’ve yelled at the mayor. I’ve argued with the speaker, but I’ve done it in-house.
“It’s not effective for me to stand on the steps of City Hall and berate the mayor,” he continued. “But it’s easy for me to go into City Hall and say I need a meeting with the mayor, and I’ve had that opportunity. Because I’ve been a person they feel is serious about getting things done, I have that entry with the mayor and his senior staff.”
Comrie, who is being forced out of the Council because of term limits, believes Queens is on the cusp of an economic boom, fueled by an influx of new homeowners and small businesses.
“I’m running because I think I have the best set of tools to ensure growth, that economic development is done with a borough-wide flavor,” he said last week in an interview with the Editorial Board of the Queens Chronicle. “I think I have a great sense of the borough’s history, having worked here my entire career.”
Comrie said his opponents all are accomplished public servants, but that his skill set, including gifts for listening and reaching compromise, is what is needed in the borough.
He said the next borough president will have to be far more of an active, vocal advocate than Helen Marshall has been.
“Helen’s style has been that of an educator, bringing people in and trying to find a balance in a quiet style,” he said. “But with the advent of what is going on, with a new administration in City Hall, new council members in the borough, the new borough president needs to be more of an activist. ... the needs of the borough have changed. The way of getting things done has changed as well. You cannot be a passive borough president.”
Recently, it seems as if Comrie has been one of the few politicians from Southeast Queens who has not been caught under legal or ethical clouds.
While he does say that there can be no tolerance for public officials who break the law, Comrie believes that minority elected officials nationally come under greater scrutiny from law enforcement.
Comrie said a primary focus of his administration will be adding some 17,000 classroom seats, possibly necessitating creative planning and zoning, as well as agreements with developers, such as including schools on the ground floors of new developments.
He will reopen the “war room” that former Borough President Claire Shulman kept to monitor land acquisition and construction progress on new schools.
The St. Albans representative said the new leader will have to keep an eye on the ongoing development efforts led by the New York Mets ownership at Willets Point to make sure that things like the affordable housing component remain carved in stone with any agreement.
He believes that the Unites States Tennis Association’s bid to expand its footprint in Flushing Meadows Corona Park can be worked out with a stronger commitment by the USTA to support the park, while still taking advantage of the numerous employment and economic benefits that the organization offers.
He believes the soccer stadium proposed by Major League Soccer in the borough is dead with the New York Yankees reaching an agreement with the league.
Comrie said his efforts on behalf of small business are both one of his greatest achievements while in office and one of the best assets he would bring to Borough Hall.
Other achievements he pointed to on the Council include more than $100 million in investments in city colleges; improvements in every park in his district; and technological upgrades in every school he represents.
He also said funding for libraries has been greater in the last 12 years than it had been in the previous 20.
Comrie believes economic growth can be spurred if Queens takes further advantage of its cultural institutions, which he also takes credit for funding so they can thrive and expand.
He would like to take the Restaurant Week theme used in a handful of neighborhoods and expand it throughout the whole borough to bring people to Queens by taking advantage of its myriad ethnic and internationally-themed restaurants.
And he said the next borough president will need to be the one to bring all local, state and federal officials and the money they control to the effort to rebuild the Rockaways.
“We need one vision,” he said. “You can’t have 20 different people with 30 different plans for the Rockaways. And the people must be involved.
The shortage of hospital beds and emergency room space, he said, can be alleviated somewhat by fostering new medical practices that specialize in 24-hour, non-emergency healthcare services..