Community members inside the hall and out did not hold back their opinions at Tuesday night’s Jackson Heights town hall meeting held by Rep. Joseph Crowley (D- Queens-Bronx) and Councilman Daniel Dromm (D- Jackson Heights).
Greeting the arrivals outside the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights was a contingent of Occupy Wall Street demonstrators, prepared to confront Crowley over his votes for what they termed “job-killing trade deals that ban Wall Street regulation.”
Donning corporate logo face masks representing Crowley’s corporate campaign contributors, the protesters derided Crowley for voting for the Colombia, Panama, South Korea, Peru and Oman Free Trade Agreements.
According to Adam Weissman of OWS Trade Justice Working Group, Crowley’s votes “helped his corporate donors get richer but sold out human rights, the environment, people in need of lifesaving generic drugs and US jobs that will now be outsourced to sweatshops.”
While the beat of a drum continued outside, Crowley greeted the audience seated inside the cramped hall and suggested that “things are getting better” in this country, though he admitted that “job creation has not been part of the recovery.”
He defended President Obama’s healthcare plan and indicated he “will continue to defend it. We’ll leave it to the courts now. Our country is making progress.”
Dromm added “[this is] democracy at work, especially in a very diverse community.”
Dromm said he was most proud of his role in the purchase of a piece of land from the area’s Garden School “to return open space to this community.” The purchase will mean doubling the size of the nearby Travers Park, he said.
He also allocated $1 million for a new cardiac facility in the emergency department of the Elmhurst Hospital Center, which is facing overcrowding problems. He said the large undocumented community in his district utilizes the hospital as a doctor’s office.
Dromm also mentioned he helped undocumented students in foster care get on the path to becoming citizens of this country.
“In the past year, 400 children have been given the greatest gift of all — citizenship,” he said.
Audience questions, which were written down on forms, were read aloud by Crowley and Dromm.
The first, addressed by the congressman, concerned the closing of a bulk mail facility in College Point, a move he blamed on “an effort to reduce costs. I wish we could have kept the facility open.” Heindicated that “recoiling” is not a viable solution to the postal system’s financial woes.
“Being more competitive is the answer,” he said.
As boisterous audience outbursts threatened to derail the meeting, Dromm discussed various transportation issues facing the community.
According to him, the Department of Transportation conducted a study of 500 individuals out of concern for safety and noise issues in the area.
The study, launched in 2009, was intended to develop short-term, temporary improvements that could be monitored and adjusted.
It led to several recommendations, which fall into four major categories: pedestrian safety improvements, new bicycle facilities, measures to reduce congestion and improve bus speeds and safer access to transit.
The printout listing these recommendations indicated that in response to community concerns, the DOT has already lengthened the green time at 77th Street and 35rd Avenue to improve traffic flow; improved signal timing at Broadway/Roosevelt Avenue and Broadway/73rd Street.; improved signage at 75th Street and 37th Avenue; provided additional parking on 74th Street at 37th Road; and reversed the direction of 37th Road between 74th Street and 75th Street to provide better access to 74th Street.
The printout said “bus travel times have improved dramatically on both the Q47 and Q49 bus lines in the northbound and southbound directions... [and] the improvements at Broadway/73rd Street, Roosevelt Avenue/73rd Street and Roosevelt Avenue/74th Street have decreased the number of accidents and injuries.”
As a few members of the crowd continued to interrupt, Dromm said, “Change is hard, but necessary.”