At a forum held in Astoria on March 14, as the Queens Chronicle reported in its March 21 edition (“Schools, jobs top boro pres forum”), the six Democratic candidates for the office of Queens borough president said small businesses must be nurtured if they are to provide the jobs needed for the borough and the city. On the small business issue alone. the only credible candidate is state Sen. Tony Avella. The others, Councilman Leroy Comrie, former Deputy Borough President Barry Grodenchik, former Councilwoman Melinda Katz, state Sen. Jose Peralta and Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., not only lack credibility but exhibit hypocrisy that negates qualification for the office they seek. Only Avella has come out against Mayor Bloomberg’s ill-advised Willets Point proposal, the others all support the proposal, and therein lies the hypocrisy.
For decades the city collected sewer rent and real estate and other taxes from Willets Point owners notwithstanding there were no sewers and a failure to address the area’s infrastructure needs. Ignoring its own culpability, the city declared the area a blight that must go. The development will require millions of dollars in cleanup and infrastructure costs, most of which will be borne by taxpayers and not the developer chosen by the city. The city could of course do the cleanup for the benefit of the current businesses in the area, but that would not fit with Bloomberg’s romance with fat-cat real estate developers.
Implicit in the Willets Point proposal is the destruction of 225 small businesses — that is correct, 225 small businesses — the loss of jobs for 1,000 employees and the fallout on their thousands of dependents. The development will not include a mom-and-pop grocery store or small manufacturing business. It may well include a Gucci store and all kinds of upscale establishments. It will also destroy the small businesses on Northern Boulevard, Roosevelt Avenue, 108th Street and the 20th Avenue and Rego Park malls.
To support redeveloping Willets Point does not make one interested in small businesses, but on the contrary a supporter of big business and an enemy of the small business owner. For most of the above candidates, claims to care about the importance of small business are empty words. There is a real choice, and if one cares about small businesses, the choice should be Avella.