Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) took the oath of office Sunday before a packed auditorium of jubilant and optimistic community members and politicians at Long Island City High School.
A native of the district where he lives with his wife, Laurie, and son, Niko, Constantinides is the first Greek-Cypriot American to hold elected office and is the first councilman who is not of the Vallone family to hold the position in more than 30 years.
Constantinides addressed his policy priorities, namely investing in education infrastructure and reversing policies that have harmed schools, expanding healthcare facilities, improving air quality, keeping pedestrians safe, increasing public transportation and getting garbage off the streets.
He blasted the Bloomberg administration for disregarding “the bond between school and community” and spoke of standing “in the doorway way too often to the closure of this neighborhood high school.”
Constantinides spoke briefly on the issue of portables — temporary trailers in schoolyards to accommodate overcrowding — a problem that has grown rampant in western Queens.
As for the “transportable classroom units” in many of the district’s schools: “You can put a tiara on a pig, but that doesn’t make it a princess,” he said. “They’re just moving trailers and the fact that they’re still in our schoolyards is unacceptable.”
Referring to the borough’s healthcare crisis, brought on by the closing of four Queens hospitals, Constantinides refuses “to accept the status quo where we have to get on a highway or a bridge to get good healthcare.” He supports the expansion of Mt. Sinai of Queens and wishes “to build a Western Queens that works for everyone.”
“When a street in our neighborhood functions more like a highway than a street, we have a problem,” Constantinides said, as 10 pedestrians have already died in 2014.
Another prominent issue in his district is excessive amounts of trash. In fact, after being besieged by complaints, Constantinides is drafting a bill to manage daily garbage pickup, plans to bring the Doe Fund to western Queens and raise the fines for illegal dumping.
“This summer I took some pictures of the area and how dirty the streets were,” the Rev. Paul Milholland said in his invocation. “Costa came to the church the next day and said ‘you sent me an email last night. We’re going to straighten this stuff out.’ That’s the kind of Councilman you’ve got.”
Former Councilman Jim Gennaro emceed the event and spoke of the “big shoes” Constantinides will have to fill, as he is succeeding the Vallone’s half-century of representing the district. Former City Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr. administered the oath and confidently assured the audience that Constantinides will “never look down at you.”
Congratulatory speeches were punctuated with performances by the Greek-Cypriot Dance Pancyprian Association, and a modern jazz dance and choir performance by Long Island City High School students.