As a public school teacher of 25 years, it’s not surprising that Daniel Dromm’s number one priority in his bid for a City Council seat is education.
In a district plagued by overcrowded schools, Dromm pledged to work hard to decrease class sizes. “What we’ve got to do is get additional seats here in the district,” he said. “We have to think of creative ways to be able to do that. We may have to build up instead of out. We may have to use existing space and convert it into classroom space. We may have to rent from the Catholic schools.” Dromm also supports unionized charter schools.
To fund new schools, Dromm would dip into the “airport fund,” a $100 million pot of money allotted to the neighborhoods bordering LaGuardia Airport. The money, which comes from the federal government through the Port Authority, is intended for capital projects.
In addition to reducing class sizes, Dromm would advocate for more teacher and parental involvement in school affairs. “[Chancellor] Joel Klein has really had a top-down management style that has excluded the parents and actually excluded the voices of the teachers in terms of the decision-making process,” Dromm said, adding that he supports mayoral control but feels more checks and balances are needed.
Another priority is health care. With St. John’s Hospital closed and Elmhurst Hospital overwhelmed by the volume of patients it receives, Dromm feels the area needs “primary care resource centers.” He pledged to work to bring doctors and insurance companies together to create accessible centers for routine medical care.
Then there are quality of life issues — things like traffic congestion and public transportation, which Dromm said incumbent Helen Sears (D-Jackson Heights) has neglected to address. He stressed the importance of strengthening the public transportation system and suggested means of improving traffic flow.
Dromm wants 73rd Street, which currently has two one-way segments that “collide” at Roosevelt Avenue, to become one way in a single direction. He also complained that the recent removal of a bus stop on 73rd Street, which was replaced with several metered parking spaces, is aggravating, rather than alleviating congestion. Dromm said he would solicit input from the community about these and other transportation-related issues, using neighborhood input as a guide to advocate for infrastructure improvements.
On the housing end, Dromm said affordable apartments should be a must in new buildings. “Any time we allow development to go on in the district, we should be asking for affordable housing,” he said, adding that at least 30 to 50 percent of the units in any given development should be priced for low- or middle-income families.
As for jobs, Dromm wants to promote green industries and said processes such as retrofitting buildings with greener components could put many people to work. In addition, to encourage small businesses, he wants to reduce what he calls “overburdensome regulations” which individuals must comply with in order to open new establishments.
In all areas, Dromm pledged to engage the community and be attentive to constituents’ concerns and wishes. “I think that we have the same problems in the community that we had eight years ago,” he said. “What we need now are solutions. … I think I have the ability to bring people together.”
Dromm is well known for his leadership in the neighborhood’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. He founded the Queens pride parade and has been an active supporter of LGBT rights.
He is currently the district leader for the Democratic party and has received endorsements from a wide array of unions. His fundraising efforts have placed him between his two competitors, Sears and Stanley Kalathara, with $111,000.
Councilwoman Helen Sears (D-Jackson Heights) is trying for a third term. After eight years representing District 25, Sears says she has worked hard to bring issues to the table which were formerly not discussed, and she has projects in the works that she wants to see through to completion.
That’s why she voted to extend term limits. “It hurts communities to leave them dangling,” Sears said. “It is great to be able to provide services into the community, understanding what the needs are. But it’s even greater to realize the completion of capital projects that I know are going to be there through their most difficult times.”
Among the projects that Sears hopes to finish is a women’s health clinic, which is currently being designed. “The diversity in this district had challenges,” Sears said, explaining that many immigrant women don’t feel comfortable going to normal co-ed medical facilities. “This clinic is to be able to provide that exact environment so that women will be able to seek quality health care … and be comfortable in receiving that.”
Sears’ priorities for the next term also include expanding job development programs and reducing the red tape that prospective small business owners must go through in order to open up shop.
She thinks her time in office so far has been productive, since she opened a new cancer pavilion and pediatric unit at Elmhurst Hospital, used discretionary funding to bring more state-of-the-art technology into schools, brought to the table the topic of human trafficking and held the first City Council hearing on day laborers.
Until recently, Sears said, the state had no laws about human trafficking, but after the City Council drafted a resolution, based on the testimony of various experts, Albany passed New York’s first human trafficking bill. Similarly, Sears credits herself with bringing day laborers’ woes to light, saying that as a result of the meetings and hearing she held, a report is being drafted which will make recommendations about how to end widespread labor abuses.
“There are good things happening,” Sears said. “Can we do more? Absolutely.”
With two terms under her belt, she believes she is well positioned to get things done in the City Council. “I know the system; I know how to make it work. … I am constantly in touch with my district, assessing the needs, working with the merchants.”
Sears was selected to be the Queens budget negotiator in 2001, meaning that when the city budget is assembled, she advocates on behalf of the borough to try to ensure that Queens gets the money it needs. She is also chairwoman of the Committee on Standards and Ethics in the City Council and is a member of the Finance, Health, Transportation and state and federal Legislation committees.
Prior to joining the council, Sears served as an administrator at Elmhurst Hospital and was a board member of the city Health Systems Agency. She also worked as a senior specialist with the city’s Department for the Aging, co-founded the Catherine Sheridan Senior Center and helped develop LeFrak City’s first senior center.
Sears has the backing of several members of Congress, including Gary Ackerman, Yvette Clarke, Joseph Crowley and Gregory Meeks, in addition to Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, several City Council members and a variety of unions and workers associations. She is leading her rivals, Daniel Dromm and Stanley Kalathara in fundraising, having raised about $124,000.
Stanley Kalathara is the only foreign-born American in the District 25 race. Originally from India, Kalathara immigrated to the United States in 1980 and has worked his way up from busboy to restaurant owner to real estate lawyer.
“I want to return what I benefitted,” he said. “I want to give the commmunity back what the community deserves.”
Kalathara’s priorities for office include cleaning up Roosevelt Avenue and turning it into a business improvement district, streamlining the application process for starting new small businesses, opening a new high school and turning the decomissioned St. John’s Hospital into a swine flu clinic.
He said his experience as a successful restaurant owner and attorney will help him create jobs, organize community members and make the area more inviting and prosperous.
Improving Roosevelt Avenue is the linchpin of Kalathara’s plan for the neighborhood. “There are hundreds and hundreds of different types of shops there,” he said. “Beautiful things. Excellent food. The lowest prices anywhere.” But, he said, prostitution, drug dealing and garbage ruin the character of the street and discourage people from spending money there.
To change the character of Roosevelt Avenue, Kalathara proposes two initial meaures: installing eight new street lights on each block — a measure which he expects will drive away criminals and thereby generate $5 to $10 million for the neighborhood — and eliminating trash by placing more garbage cans on the street and requesting more frequent trash pickup.
In addition, Kalathara plans to work with the NYPD to nail down which precinct is in charge of Roosevelt Avenue. Currently, the street straddles two precincts, and as a result, Kalathara says, “a criminal can shift around and make fun of the police.”
He also plans to encourage business owners to take initiative in cleaning up the outsides of their establishments, to make the area as a whole prettier and more inviting.
“If there is no crime, if the neighborhood is beautiful, if there is enough light … I guarantee that will generate billions of dollars for this district,” Kalathara said.
To nurture mom-and-pop businesses, he proposes streamlining the process individuals must go through to open new establishments. Currently, applications must be filed with multiple city departments, an ordeal that can take months.
“This is a waste and discourages entrepreneurs,” Kalathara said, adding that he wants to coordinate the process so an application would have to be filed only once.
When it comes to education, the candidate pledged to find a location for a new high school and added that he thinks charter schools should be vigorously promoted.
Kalathara hasn’t received any major endorsements and is trailing his rivals, Daniel Dromm and incumbent Helen Sears monetarily, having raised a little less than $103,000 — $8,000 less than Dromm and $21,000 less than Sears.
But he voiced optimism about his prospects.“My endorsement is the people,” he said. “I’m going to win.”
Distancing himself from his opponents, he claimed that Dromm is a “one-issue candidate” concerned only about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, and criticized Sears for voting to extend term limits. He also stressed that he’s not a career politician — just a citizen who wants to help his community realize the American dream.