Michael Conigliaro of Rego Park is nothing if not direct when asked why he sought the Republican nomination in the City Council’s 29th District.
“I’ve seen a decay in the degree of leadership,” Conigliaro said in a recent interview. “I’ve seen a decay in the quality of life. I’ve seen an uptick in crime. I’ve seen business owners leaving the district either because of high taxes or the result of the pandemic and not having enough protections for them and their landlords to help them stay here. I’m seeing our education system being hijacked by progressive ideologies.
“Basically I want to come in and really just get the district on track.”
Conigliaro, a father of two and a law office manager, also serves on Community Education Council 24.
Two of his top priorities involve what he does and does not want going onto a large swath of land by the Queens Criminal Courthouse in Kew Gardens.
“There is an impending jail looming over our district’s head,” he said. “That’s a reason for my running — to stop that jail from going up.”
With the City Council voting to shut down the Rikers Island jail complex and build smaller lock-ups in Kew Gardens and three other boroughs by comfortable margins, Conigliaro admits it would take a lot of votes to turn around to stop it.
“They’re also putting new jails in the Bronx, Brooklyn [and Manhattan],” he said. “First and foremost, I would sit down with the representatives of those areas and form a coalition to show the new mayor that this is just a bad idea, one that no community wants.”
Given his way, Conigliaro said the money allocated to the four jails should be redirected to rebuilding and modernizing the Rikers jail facilities.
On the land dedicated to the new jail, he wants a hospital to fill some of the gap created by the closure of a number of hospitals in Queens in the last two decades. And he admitted it would take time and attention to determine who would build it, who would run it and, in the case of a city facility, where the money would come from in a municipality that has massive predicted budget deficits that must be closed in the next three years.
“No. 1, what I would have to do, in all honesty, is educate myself, find out where I can get the money and about what incentives might be available,” he said. “No. 2, I would need to sit down with [New York City] Health + Hospitals, with healthcare individuals, people who could guide me on how to better go about that.”
He believes in fully finding the NYPD.
“Take the handcuffs off the police and put them back on the criminals,” he said. On education, Conigliaro wants to expand Gifted and Talented education and keep the Specialized High School Admissions Test.
“Those programs have been destroyed by the mayor, the current chancellor and the previous chancellor,” he said. “I don’t want a progressive ideology to be injected into our education system. Our children should not be used as political scapegoats to try and bring in an agenda that is not going to benefit any of us. I want children learning under the Judeo-Christian tradition. They learn their history. They learn their math.”
He said a lottery for specialized high schools is a bad idea for children who are not ready for what they would be walking into.
“With a lottery, where you could have children who are not able to handle the curriculum, with any student, that is not fair.”
And he wants school safety agents returned to the purview of the NYPD.
“They serve a great purpose in our schools. There’s a misconception that they create a jail-like atmosphere in our schools. They do not. They live in the neighborhoods where their schools are ... They’re an integral component of the schools. Some people want to pull them out of the schools altogether. That would be a dire mistake.”
A lot of issues in the district, Conigliaro said, will revolve around money.
“I’m looking at bike lanes and bus lanes,” said Conigliaro — not a fan of either one. “What if we got the money that was spent on them? And I’m looking at the businesses that were hurt in those locations. I know a lot of money went to ThriveNYC [first lady Chirlane McCray’s oft-criticized mental health initiative]. Where the hell is that money? I’ll have discretionary money as well.”
Conigliaro believes things like tax moratoria for small businesses and landlords must go hand-in-hand, to keep both in the district.
“Also, we’ll have a new governor next year,” he said, stating the city must look to Albany for more help.
On homelessness, particularly for veterans, he said the city has totally mismanaged what he said now is a crisis.
“There’s a $2.2 billion budget for the homeless population and yet money is being squandered in ways that would blow your mind,” Conigliaro said. “The way that government just throws money at hotel owners or places just to store people is not the way to handle that.” Commissioner Steve Banks of the Human Resources Administration must be replaced, he said.
Conigliaro said some of the homeless would be able to qualify for paid jobs cleaning streets and sidewalks in the district.
“You get a total number — and it’s a mind-boggling number,” Conigliaro said of the cost of district priorities. “That’s where you say I’ve got to roll up my sleeves and find out how to get this money.”
Even with the most optimistic GOP thinking, Conigliaro and any other Republicans almost certainly would be exponentially outnumbered by the Democratic caucus in January 2022. The existing Council has 45 Democrats, three Republicans and three vacancies.
Conigliaro said that should not be a problem in delivering for the district.
“Even if a Democrat from another district has a different ideology than mine, we’re not far off,” he said. “We have to work together to accomplish that across the board and show that the new City Council can work in a unified way, as opposed to the previous Council, which was skewed in the wrong one-way direction.
“In addition to that we’ve had a mayor who was the worst mayor in the history of New York City, a mayor no one — Democrats or Republicans — could work with because it’s been his way or the highway.”
Conigliaro believes a new mayor — he has been campaigning with Republican Curtis Sliwa and has endorsed him — coming in along with 37 new Council members can chart a path to change the city for the better.