To say this isn’t Lew Simon’s first time at the rodeo is an understatement.
The Rockaway civic leader has made multiple attempts at elected office, including twice before for the City Council seat he’s currently seeking, and he’s been elected and re-elected as Democratic leader in the Assembly district that includes most of the Rockaway Peninsula, Howard Beach, Broad Channel, and Ozone Park for the last couple of decades.
Simon, a lifelong Rockaway resident, is running to oust incumbent Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park). He said the district’s slow, painful recovery from Hurricane Sandy was the catalyst that led him to take another shot at winning a seat in City Hall.
“It’s unacceptable that a year later, we still don’t have a boardwalk, we have no protection in place,” he said. “Everyone’s needs were not met.”
He accused his opponent of “not doing the job” as councilman in the weeks and months after Sandy and said he has the experience working with residents and city agencies to get things done.
“I return calls, I get the job done, I don’t leave anyone hanging,” he said. “Right after the hurricane, I was out there helping anyone who needed help, and that’s what I’ll do as councilman.”
He noted that he was forced to leave his Rockaway home and stay in Flushing in the weeks after the storm and helped coordinate recovery efforts despite being outside the community.
Simon blamed the tepid response to a “breakdown” of city, state and federal government, and said that as councilman, he would bring everyone together to move recovery efforts forward.
“I want to be the Henry Kissinger, to bring everyone to the table and get everyone to respond and take care of the needs of the people,” he explained. “People have been going through constant red tape.”
Simon said the Rockaway peninsula and the bay front neighbors like Broad Channel and Howard Beach need seawalls, floodgates and other types of flood controls, and he wants to see the boardwalk reconstruction move forward faster.
“One of my main priorities is to make sure the boardwalk is built, that in the summer of 2014, the boardwalk is there,” he said.
Simon acknowledged that flood insurance rates will go up, but said a big hike would be terrible for residents.
“We can’t raise rates above and beyond to where people can’t keep their homes,” he said.
Besides Sandy, Simon said transportation issues top his list of priorities for the district, including keeping and expanding the Rockaway ferry that was put in place after Sandy and remains running on weekdays through Jan. 31. He said he would like to see it run more often, on weekends, and add stops closer to Far Rockaway and in Howard Beach.
He supports the reactivation of the Rockaway Beach rail line despite the potentially high cost. He noted that the MTA is spending more than $17 billion building the Second Avenue Subway and it should be willing to make a similar financial commitment to Queens. He added that he does not see stiff opposition to the line, even in Woodhaven and Richmond Hill, which sits in the Council district.
“I’ve knocked on all the doors and no one has ever come up and told me they don’t want the railroad,” Simon said. “I haven’t seen a pushback yet.”
He does not support putting select bus service along Cross Bay and Woodhaven boulevards, as is being discussed, and instead suggested an HOV lane for the route used by many Rockaway and South Queens residents to commute to work.
“A dedicated bus line is not going to help us, it’s only going to kill us even more,” he said.
On education, Simon said the district needs more afterschool and ESL programs and more schools, and he noted his opposition to co-locations.
“We need each school to be in its own building,” he said. “There are locations that can be identified.”
Simon, who touts endorsements from every other elected Democrat in the district and some prominent members of his party including Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), said he isn’t worried about running in the district that often shows the strongest Republican support in Queens. Before Ulrich, the seat was held by now-state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) — who supports Simon — and before him a Republican, Al Stabile. The district has voted for the GOP candidate for mayor in every election since 1985, though Simon thinks de Blasio will win it this year, saying he would be glad to work with him as mayor.
“It’s Mayor de Blasio and Councilman Simon that will deliver, because we’re all on the same page,” he said.