The City Council’s Queens delegation isn’t just a collection of colleagues from the same borough, according to Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), the group’s leader.
Beyond being legislative allies, the lawmaker said, they are a tight knit group of friends.
That apple cart has been upset in a major way, however, as Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Glendale) — the longest actively tenured lawmaker in the borough — will be departing in January in favor of the man who defeated her by 137 votes last week, Councilman-elect Bob Holden.
The Juniper Park Civic Association president isn’t just the insurgent political rookie who ran on the Republican line despite being a registered Democrat — eventually taking down the cousin of powerful Queens Democratic Party chairman Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Queens, Bronx).
He’s also the bomb-throwing activist known for his take-no-prisoners attitude and his penchant for raging against lawmakers, regardless of party, who he and his neighbors believe have wronged them.
And over the last 10 of his nearly 30 years in charge at the JPCA, Elizabeth Crowley has been his biggest and most hated target.
Will Holden’s history and scorched-earth approach to issues hurt him with any of his new colleagues in government?
In a Chronicle survey of Queens lawmakers, it depended on whom the paper asked.
One of the more optimistic lawmakers was Koslowitz, who said she’s known the civic leader for many years and has worked well with him in the past — something Holden himself acknowledged during his campaign.
However, the Forest Hills lawmaker campaigned for Crowley over the last few months, telling the Chronicle last Friday that her friend’s defeat was a “very sad” moment for the borough.
“Absolutely,” Koslowitz said, when asked if Crowley will be missed. “It’s very sad because she has worked hard. She really fought hard for her constituents.”
At the same time, the head of the Queens delegation said she is “hopeful” that Holden will prove to be a valued, productive member of the City Council. But for him to earn the respect of his colleagues, Koslowitz said, he needs to pick and choose his battles much more carefully.
“He’s in a different position. He’s going to have to produce for his constituents,” she said. “If you throw bombs, you’re not going to get what your constituents need.”
Koslowitz added that taking a scorched-earth approach against City Hall, at least in public, could easily backfire, possibly in the form of decreased funding or interest from the administration in district projects.
“All of that does matter. You’ll never see me in front of City Hall bad-mouthing the mayor,” she said. “I have my own opinions and my thoughts on the mayor and his policies, but bad-mouthing the mayor is bad for my people.
“I’ve called them, screamed and carried on,” she added of city officials. “But I don’t have to do it in the street. That would only make things worse.”
At the end of the day, Koslowitz believes maintaining a positive relationship with the rest of the Queens delegation is a must for Holden. If he’s open to it, she said, his colleagues will be there to help guide him early in his term and help advance legislation he pushes in the future.
“I want to see how he reacts with us, but it’s hard for me to say what will happen,” she said. “I hope the Queens delegation continues to be what it’s been. But if people start fighting, we shut them out. That’s it.”
While Koslowitz was optimistic Holden will become a valued member of the delegation, Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) said in a Monday interview he will “fight against” the incoming lawmaker’s possibly caucusing with the Democrats.
According to Dromm, Holden ruined any chance of fostering a relationship with him on Election Night, when the civic leader pledged in his victory speech to “battle some of the lunatics in the City Council that are trying to destroy the city.”
“Calling your future colleagues lunatics is not a good way to start,” Dromm said. “I do wish him well. I hope his constituents benefit from him being in office, but I’m not sure that’s going to happen.”
The openly gay lawmaker also said he’s taken issues over the years with Holden and his views that “border on racist and homophobic,” adding that the councilman-elect is a “total Republican” no matter what party he’s affiliated with.
“In my opinion, Bob represents the Trump side of the Republican Party, and he’s just as explosive as the president,” he said. “He’s always been a Republican. He has no Democratic credentials and he doesn’t represent anything the Democratic Party stands for.”
When asked what advice he had for the incoming rookie lawmaker, Dromm said Holden needs to eliminate name-calling and insulting from his arsenal.
But as of right now, the councilman said he couldn’t think of a single issue on which he even agrees with Holden, nevermind wants to work with him on.
“I don’t know what those issues would be. Look at the type of stuff you read on Queens Crap,” he said, referring to the pro-Holden blog that features mercilous attacks on lawmakers and a comment section often full of offensive remarks. “If this is what’s coming into the Council, he’s in for a rude awakening.”
Like Koslowitz, Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) bemoaned the loss of Crowley, calling her “focused” and one of the body’s more “effective” members who was not easily pushed around.
“She took her responsibility as chairperson of the Fire and Criminal Justice Services Committee seriously and she conducted real oversight,” Lancman said. “I think her loss is a big loss to the body. She was always willing and able to stand up to the city when she needed to.”
But unlike Koslowitz, Lancman was not as hopeful Holden will make the transition “from insurgent, angry candidate to a councilman who represents everyone in his district and works effectively with his colleagues.”
“Even after the election, what I’ve seen from him is an unrelenting hostility toward the Queens Democratic Party, Elizabeth and the system that he’s now a part of,” he said. “Every person who makes that transition as I did from civic leader to decision-maker has to realize any jackass can knock down a barn. But it takes a leader to build one.”
Lancman was complimentary of Holden, however, calling him bright and intelligent while adding that he can be extremely professional.
But for the councilman-elect to be an effective lawmaker who represents his district’s interests while also crafting policy that impacts every city resident, Lancman said, Holden won’t be able to verbally batter his colleagues into working with him.
That could only isolate him and dramatically weaken his ability to legislate.
“Since the election, the only thing I’ve heard from Bob is unrelenting negativity. But if he would come out with something positive, I don’t think people wouldn’t work with him because he’s Bob Holden,” Lancman said. “The election’s over. He won. Magnanimity on his part would serve him well.
“He has to decide if he wants to be Archie Bunker or if he wants to be a middle of the road kind of guy,” he added. “And it starts by showing some magnanimity and some class going forward.”
While Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) was not available for an interview by press time, he told the crowd at Holden’s victory party that his new colleague and good friend will work wonders for District 30.
“He will serve this community with integrity and he will always, always put the people first,” Ulrich said. “He’s not going to cater to the special interests or the party bosses. He’s going to cater to the people and we need more people like him in City Hall.”
Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) declined to comment and a spokesperson for Councilman Antonio Reynoso (D-Brooklyn, Ridgewood) acknowledged the Chronicle’s request for comment, but did not provide one.
Spokespersons for Councilmembers Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), Peter Koo (D-Flushing), Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens), Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton), Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) and Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Several state lawmakers whom Holden will be representing southwest Queens with said that while they will miss Crowley, they are excited to work with the civic leader who vanquished her.
State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) said his and Holden’s good working relationship has perservered over the years despite their differences.
But when it comes to actually entering public office, Addabbo advised Holden to pick his fights carefully, something the former said the latter “understands the gravity” of doing.
“He can be his usual vocal self and keep his persona, but he needs to know when to turn it on and turn it off,” Addabbo said. “When you’re an elected official, you have to be professional and somewhat of a role model for people in your area.
“You can’t work in a vacuum. You need to form alliances to push bills through,” he added. “I think he’s going to learn that very quickly and I hope he’s productive.”
In a Monday interview, Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) called Holden a “competent community person” who should always be the same man the voters elected.
“Who am I to tell someone how to act or react? We all do things in our own way, and you have to adapt and adjust,” Miller said. “You just have to go in with no preconceived notions of what the job is or how the body operates.”
In a Monday statement, Assemblyman Brian Barnwell (D-Maspeth) — who caught heat from his friend Holden for endorsing Crowley after pledging to stay neutral — said he is excited to work with the councilman-elect.
“I have worked closely with Bob before as a civic leader and I look forward to working with him as a Council member,” Barnwell said. “I know he will work hard and will stand up to whomever he has to for the betterment of the community.”