Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) is running for borough president as the most “accessible” advocate for Queens with experience in both the business and public service worlds.
“We all bring government service backgrounds to this position — thank God I don’t have any Albany experience — but what I bring that no one else does are two things: I was a small business person for 10 years before I was elected ... and the second thing is a background of keeping people safe,” Vallone, who is term-limited out of the City Council this year, said during a sitdown interview with the Queens Chronicle editorial staff last week.
On the economic side Vallone disagrees with the government mandating how many paid sick days a small business owner must provide, a City Council item that recently passed, even though Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) stalled it for years. Vallone was the only Democrat to vote against it.
He would also like to see more warnings doled out to graded restaurants versus the current fine-and-more-fines system for nondangerous violations. To combat that he introduced a bill with Councilman and borough president candidate Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans).
“Everything I am going to do as borough president, God willing, will be done through the eyes of the small business person,” said Vallone, who ran his family’s Astoria-based law firm for 10 years and before that worked as a prosecutor for six years. “The others can talk about small businesses, but none of them have had a job outside of government.”
Candidate and former City Councilwoman Melinda Katz worked as a lobbyist for a few years and is now a private-sector attorney.
As for his background in safety Vallone touts his tenure as the chairman of the Council’s Public Safety Committee for 11 years. He cites working with Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to bring down crime 32 percent since 2002 and 80 percent since 1991.
His committee has been involved in the debate about stop and frisk as well as reviewing the new 911 system. On June 7 a 4-year-old girl was killed after it took the 911 operator four minutes to dispatch a response team. Since taking office after the Sept. 11 attacks, Mayor Bloomberg has been rolling out a new system, but now that upgrade is a billion dollars over budget and seven years late. The Fire Department commissioner blamed the slow response on human error.
“Part of the problem is that they have an overworked, understaffed group of operators,” Vallone said, adding the workload employees are asked to perform would produce errors in any profession.
The position has duties such as community board and development as well advocacy for the borough, he said.
The councilman drafted a bill that would require Queens agencies to go before the borough president’s board with proposals, giving the position more power. He would also bring in experts on topics from Sandy, to education and healthcare to create the best policy.
“The job is what you make it,” he said.
“I would stay involved in writing laws.”
He noted Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz’s hands-on approach to policy making. Diaz actively works with the Council, according to Vallone. He killed the Armory project, a move Vallone disagreed with, by rallying together Bronx council members, and now he’s working with Vallone on gun registry legislation.
Vallone said he would advocate, and Vallone is known for having a loud-not-easy-to-step-down voice, for more police officers and in favor of the controversial Stop and Frisk program.
In the development sector he would like to look at the borough as he did for his district getting downzoning for areas “so it’s not two-story, two-story, 10-story,” he said. He would like to see some development, but not just residential, but medical, schools, parking space, transportation and other infrastructure projects as well.
One such big development that is scheduled to occur during the next borough president’s tenure is Willets Point. Vallone supported the original proposed project that came before the Council in 2008, but now the plan has morphed to push back the construction of affordable housing and to spread out to capture a parking lot on the south side of Citi Field, where developers would like to see a mall. Vallone would like to see that “different plan” back before the City Council.
“I have always supported some form of development there, especially since there is a small amount of legitimate businesses there. It was a hard decision,” he said. “The job of the borough president will be to monitor this project and make sure it’s done with the input from the community board, and that the developers come back to the table. Whether or not they can be forced to go back to the City Council anywhere, we’ll see, but if these developers want to build anywhere else in Queens, they better damn well work with me and work with the community. It has to be on budget and on time.”
If elected Vallone would continue to oppose the building of a soccer stadium in Flushing Meadows Corona Park as well as advocate for more money to fix up the grounds. He recently proposed a bill that mirrors one introduced on the state level by state Sen. Dan Squadron (D-Brooklyn, Manhattan) that would require any park conservancy raking in more than $5 million, such as the Central Park conservancy, to donate 20 percent to other parks that have been rated unsatisfactory for two years or more.
“Money should not be paying for things that should already be there like [park enforcement patrol] officers and graffiti removal,” Vallone said, “but if you want to build a really nice comfort station or put up extra signage, that’s what the extra money should be for. That’s what a good borough president is going to be there to do. I support a conservancy. I don’t love the idea of relying on private money ... but right now if there is that hundreds of millions of dollars it needs to get to Flushing Meadows.”
Additionally as borough president he would allocate some of his funds to the park.
If elected he would make his appointment to the Panel on Education Policy someone who represents his views that he would gain through education experts and as a father of two daughters who went through the public school system. Unlike other Democratic candidates he does not have a problem with all charter schools.
He noted his voice was raised against moving the Civic Virtue statue, which was taken from Kew Gardens to Brooklyn, and the partial renaming of the Queensboro Bridge to the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge.
“If they tried to rename the Brooklyn Bridge Marty Markowitz would still be handcuffed to it,” Vallone said. “That’s what a borough president is supposed to do.”
Vallone vehemently spoke out against the renaming, saying that because he did so Quinn cut his discretionary funds, an assertion the speaker refutes. Vallone said as borough president he would have had a larger voice than as a local council member, even though he has a pretty large voice already. Vallone often takes to his social media pages to debate and interact with his constituents directly.
“When I’m there people will know who their borough president is,” he said.