The District 19 City Council race is one of the few in Queens to have a Republican primary — Vickie Paladino and John-Alexander Sakelos, both small business owners, will face off June 22 for Councilmember Paul Vallone’s (D-Bayside) seat.
Though both are running on the Republican Party line and share many of the same priorities, the candidates have different approaches to better their district.
Both Sakelos and Paladino list supporting and refunding the NYPD as their highest priority.
“Crime is the No. 1 issue the city faces,” said Sakelos, who is also running on the Conservative line. “Crime and quality of life are linked because most of our economy is based on person-to-person interaction. Tourism, finance — we can’t do that if there’s crime on the street.”
Sakelos said he would work to repeal and replace legislation, such as the 2020 chokehold ban, that “disincentivizes police to be proactive and preventative” because it leaves them liable to civil lawsuits.
Paladino shared the same attitude, and said she would push for the restoration of the plainclothes anti-crime unit, especially within the subway system. The restored $1 billion she’d fight for wouldn’t go toward extended training in the Police Academy, as some elected officials have called for, because she believes the police are “sensitive enough.” Though she admits there are a few bad apples in every bunch, she believes NYPD officers are honest people overall.
Though they both have displayed strong support for law enforcement, Sakelos was endorsed by the Police Benevolent Association in what the union called “the most consequential [election] in NYC history.” It’s the second endorsement the union has given the young candidate; the first was his 2019 bid to unseat Assemblymember Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside).
But Paladino doesn’t feel slighted, and said the stamp of approval was “irrelevant.”
“Anybody will tell you if you want pro-cop you go with Vickie Paladino and everybody knows that. Nobody knows them better than I,” she said.
Paladino is a lifelong Whitestoner and has watched the cost of living in the neighborhood rise drastically since her childhood. Though she said that affordable housing is “necessary,” Paladino believes there is enough in District 19 and that the already-congested area doesn’t have the infrastructure, particularly mass transportation, to support more.
Instead, Paladino looks toward reducing income taxes, property taxes and business taxes immediately to make life in the city more sustainable for the average resident, especially for seniors living on a fixed income.
“What’s going to happen to these seniors who have paid off their condo some 20 years ago? Condos and co-ops are taxed higher than a private house. They pay the highest property tax. They are going to get hit so bad,” Paladino said.
Sakelos, whose family owns a Flushing flower shop, called the increasing burden a “tax war on the middle class,” especially because he finds that District 19 rarely sees a return on infrastructure benefits.
The need to revise financial levies extends beyond property taxes, he said, and pointed to the Throgs Neck Bridge as an example. When it opened in 1961, it cost 25 cents to cross, which is equal to about $2 today. Instead, it costs some drivers $10 to use the suspension bridge.
“Tolls for a bridge are meant to pay for cost and repair for a bridge,” Sakelos said. “[It’s] punishing the people that live here and contribute to the economy. We are your local mom-and-pop businesses, we are your union workers, we are your middle class, we’re the people who have come to New York City for our slice of the American dream and we’ll pay our fair share, but now we’re paying more than our fair share and you’re pricing us out.”
The small business descendant plans to put his commercial know-how to the test to save the city money in ways that aren’t being explored. One example Sakelos used is by expanding salaried employees’ hours, which he said average from 35 to 37.5 a week, to a full 40 hours per week. According to his research with the Independent Budget Office, that increased requirement would save the city $750 million a year. The found money would get funneled into the NYPD, the Department of Sanitation and more.
“These are the types of creative solutions we need to bring to the Legislature. We don’t need career politicians, we don’t need people to yell and scream and get in front of cameras without the plans to back it up,” Sakelos said
Paladino isn’t afraid to be that person, however. If elected, she promises to give the city the jump-start it needs to get back on track.
Part of that is involving civic groups and getting community boards to be more active, she said, so that residents aren’t finding out about consequential changes to their neighborhoods after it is too late to weigh in. Transparency is a key element to her campaign.
“I’m not a person who is afraid of difficult questions. I like them. I’m not a person who shies away from difference of opinion. I appreciate it. It’s called conversation. And in order to accomplish what needs to be accomplished here there needs to be an awful lot of conversation,” she said.
At the time of publication, Paladino had raised nearly $195,000 in private and public funds, making her the third-highest fundraiser in the race, according to the City Campaign Finance Board. Sakelos raised about $125,000 from both, but spent 14.7 percent of his funds compared to Paladino’s 41.5 percent.