For elected officials, incumbency is typically a positive — a chance to make the case to voters that your term in office has been successful for the community you represent and their vote will give them more successes in the future
That’s exactly what Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), running for a second full term in office, is hoping for.
At a sitdown with Queens Chronicle editors, Ulrich laid out a long list of positive improvement he helped bring to the district, including new garbage cans on 101st Avenue, the rezoning of Woodhaven and Ozone Park, anti-graffiti initiatives and SAT prep programs in schools, but he said there is still a laundry list of things to do.
“I’m running again because I still have unfinished business,” he said. “I still have a few things that I set out to do that haven’t been completed yet.”
Among those is installing brand-new LED lighting along Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven and Richmond Hill, where there are both street and sidewalk lights. He also spoke in favor of bringing in select bus service — a system in which city buses travel in a dedicated lane, have quicker means of collecting fares and stop at fewer stops than regular or limited buses. A version of select bus service already exists on Fordham Road in the Bronx, Hylan Boulevard in Staten Island and Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn, as well as on some major Manhattan thoroughfares.
“I believe select bus service is the right way to go in the short term,” Ulrich said. “If it worked in every other borough, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t work here.”
He hasn’t taken a position on reactivation of the Rockaway Beach rail line, noting its questionable costs.
“Nobody can tell me how much it’ll cost and nobody can tell me how they can pay for it,” Ulrich said, noting that residents will not be willing to pay more taxes to fund it. He added that he isn’t sure an alternative idea, a QueensWay park, is an attractive idea either because, unlike the High Line in Manhattan, there is no significant private investment to support it.
Ulrich supports keeping the Rockaway ferry permanently and suggested bringing CitiBike to the peninsula.
“Bikes are popular in Rockaway,” he said. “I think people will generally be receptive to it.”
The idea is one few have proposed. Ulrich said it is just an example of his desire to try new things.
“I have never been afraid of trying new things and taking risks,” he said. “If it fails and I fall flat on my face, I’ll take the blame, but if it’s a success, it was worth trying. If we’re not bold, we don’t take chances and try new things, we’re not going to get anywhere.”
Ulrich noted his support for a pedestrian plaza in City Line, which many longtime residents oppose. The plaza was proposed by a Bangladeshi organization representing the growing Bengali population living on both the Queens and Brooklyn sides of the border, which the plaza would straddle.
“If the people want it, we should give it to them,” he said. “If this is something that they believe is going to be beneficial to their community, then who am I to deny it to them? I’ll do everything in my power to make it successful.”
Although endorsed by the United Federation of Teachers and the Working Families Party, Ulrich has made no secret of his support of charter schools and co-locations. He said children should have education options.
“We should invest in their local school, but at the same time what is so wrong with providing competition?” he said.
Ulrich called the co-located high school at JHS 202 in Ozone Park a success.
“I agree that one school should not take from another,” he said. “But there, the high school is taking off like a rocket. Parents are already starting to fight to get their kids there. They share space, they share computer technology and the principals work together. If we have space, we should be using it.”
But he said the “overarching theme” of his campaign focuses on the district’s biggest event in his time in office: Hurricane Sandy.
“I believe the next four years are critical for Rockaway and Howard Beach as they struggle to rebuild from Hurricane Sandy,” he said. “There’s going to be hundreds of millions of dollars of state and federal money spent on long-term flood mitigation projects and I have a very good grasp of these issues from working through them in the aftermath of the storm and I think I need to be at the table.”
He noted the City Council bills he drafted calling on Congress to change the Biggert-Waters Act, which is expected to cause flood insurance rates in coastal communities to skyrocket, and the Council’s responsibility in approving new flood maps drafted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that may put Howard Beach in a high-risk flood zone.
The 28-year-old Ozone Park native’s race against Democratic challenger Lew Simon may be the most competitive in the city, although a recent poll released by Ulrich’s campaign had him 28 points ahead of Simon.
The district, which includes much of the Rockaway Peninsula, Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Lindenwood, Ozone Park and parts of Woodhaven and Richmond Hill, has not voted for a Democratic candidate for mayor since 1985, though Ulrich’s poll had Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio ahead of GOP candidate Joe Lhota in the district by several percent.
The election is Nov. 5.