The Harley Davidson rider, guitar player, area school story-time reader and hard-on-crime Astoria councilman unapologetically spoke his mind about several issues concerning his district at the Queens Chronicle office on Friday. In fact, Councilman Peter Vallone Jr.’s no-filter approach, he said, has prompted him for about two years to not ride the trains — fearing physical confrontations with people opposing him, some of whom have assaulted him in the past. However, although some disagree, many back the councilman as shown by his 10 years in office and over $1 million raised for future campaigns.
He touched on how power plants need to burn clean, how illegal immigrants who are arrested should be deported, how stop and frisk cuts crime and how he is seriously thinking about running for borough president.
Vallone started with crime, something very much on his radar as the chairman of the Public Safety Committee.
He backs the mayor’s stop and frisk policy; “There’s no other way to do it,” he said. “Does it need to be monitored closely? Of course.”
Although stop and frisk helps, crime will continue to rise, he said, if Albany does not get tougher and keeps its looser version of the once-stiff Rockefeller drug laws and the United States continues to not deport illegal immigrants if arrested .
“I think crime is up more than they say it is,” he said.
As a self-proclaimed and proven conservative Democrat, Vallone said the city continues to vote on policies that puts fewer cops on the streets. The current budget eliminates civilian police positions that will have to be filled by officers; “less cops equals more crime,” he said.
Albany’s vote to reform the Rockefeller drug laws increased crime, he said, citing statistics and a recent NY Post column by Michael Bongiorno, the Rockland County district attorney from 1995 to 2007. The reform allowed criminals convicted of possession of drugs to opt to go to drug treatment. The problem, Vallone said, is the defendant does not have to pick treatment immediately. He or she could go for treatment several months into his or her trial, thus costing hundreds of thousands of tax payer dollars for the stretched-out proceedings, Vallone said. He also credits the reform’s elimination of mandatory jail sentences and shortened sentences for the recent spike in crime.
As for illegal immigrants, he’s not proposing a total city roundup, but he said illegal immigrants who go to jail should be deported. He said many alleged gropers, who have been a recent problem in Astoria, were illegal immigrants.
There are no minimum jail sentences for misdemeanors, which makes it that much easier to avoid a criminal record, he said. Therefore President Obama’s policy of not deporting individuals without criminal records lessens an illegal immigrant’s chance of deportation.
As chairman of the Public Safety Committee, Vallone said, he works to better the stop and frisk policy. Many people don’t know why they are getting stopped, he said. He has worked with the NYPD to ask officers to simply tell the frisked person why he or she was stopped.
He also thinks the information police gathered about people from the stops should be kept electronically for a year. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly believes the records should be on file indefinitely, according to Vallone.
After more oversight legislation, which Vallone said went overboard, the police were mandated to keep records only on paper, but not digitally — which makes it more difficult to search for a case, Vallone said.
Additionally, the council will vote this week on Gov. Cuomo’s proposal to decriminalize most marijuana charges made from stop and frisk searches. Vallone said he may abstain. It’s already a rule that people cannot be charged with a misdemeanor if they are found with a certain amount of pot during a frisk. The bill would cement this rule, which Vallone agrees with. On the other hand the councilman thinks “25 grams is a lot of pot to be walking around with.”
Although his views on drug sentences and deportation butt heads with many Democrats in the council, his stance on animal rights and the environment are more left-leaning.
As a member of Smart Power NY, a coalition of citizen organizations, environmental groups and politicians, he supports the Astoria Repowering Project. The project would replace circa-1970 units at an NRG power plant in Astoria with new, environmentally efficient equipment. Vallone does not support other power plant greening projects that do not shut down the old dirty plants once the new generators are built, like NRG’s does.
He said Astoria, which has six plants all within blocks of each other, is saturated with power generators. The mayor should keep the same mantra he had for waste treatment plants — “Each borough should share the burden,” Vallone said. “The plants clearly cause health problems.”
Along with the environment Vallone also stands with other progressive Democrats on not cutting library and after-school program funds in the city budget.
However, Vallone does support trimming pension funds, healthcare and debt service.
“We can’t have certain areas growing every year,” Vallone said. “I disagree with not fixing the problem, then raising taxes each year.”
He said he had a fireman in his office every 10 minutes after he wrote a NY Post opinion piece on Feb. 3, 2011, supporting Mayor Bloomberg’s call to reform pensions.
“Simply put, this can’t continue, especially in these tough economic times. We can’t allow pensions to eat up an ever-larger chunk of the budget,” Vallone wrote in the Post.
“We can’t have people retiring at age 40,” he said at the Queens Chronicle, and then living off their pensions until they are 90.
So what’s next for this councilman with some controversial views?
“I would love to stay in the position I’m in, but I’m term-limited out and there’s only one spot available. I’m taking a serious look at it,” he said.
Helen Marshall’s Queens borough president position will be available in 2013.
Sen. JosÈ Peralta (D-Jackson Heights) and Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) are among those who may also run.