A group of panelists speaking on the influence of money in politics and the upcoming Council speaker’s election urged the audience to “think differently” about the political system and the lawmakers that represent them.
“It’s this nexis between the special interests, especially the real estate industry, and elected officials, which so many people seem to be concerned with,” said Pauline Park, a Jackson Heights resident and head of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy. “So we find ourselves in a very challenging moment right now, and the hope is that we see ... more and more people realizing what’s at stake for our city and our country.”
The panel, titled “Money, Power & Politics: Queens Democrats Examined,” was hosted by the Queens Anti-Gentrification Project at LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City.
Park was joined by Louis Flores, publisher of the website Progress Queens, and Kenneth Shelton Jr., a former organizer with Black Lives Matter.
Michael Forest, of the Queens Anti-Gentrification Project, moderated the discussion. The panel examined what influence real estate lobbyists will have in determining the next City Council speaker — eight are vying for the position, including Councilmen Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) and Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton), though only the former was mentioned by name during the discussion.
The influence of Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Queens, Bronx), chairman of the Queens Democratic Party, was also examined. Crowley will reportedly direct 32 members to vote for the speaker of his choice [see separate story in some editions or at qchron.com].
Flores told the audience that Crowley is the man who will pick the speaker who will ultimately approve all land use applications — even those that are opposed by the community — before the Council for the next four years.
“Who gives you that Council speaker that turns a deaf ear to you?” the blogger asked. “Everything that’s happening in Queens, if you examine everything that’s happening here — Joe Crowley gets to pick who is going to become speaker. That speaker approves every single zone-busting deal in this city.”
Flores said the election of the speaker — which is done by Council members, and not the general public — can be changed with a charter revision but added there must be “anger” about it first.
“I think what’s missing is a lot of anger because the system is unjust and the reason why there isn’t enough anger is because people don’t know what’s going on,” he said. “The system is not working for us.”
Park noted the boss of the Queens Democratic Party — whether it was Crowley or the prior head, the late Rep. Thomas Manton — has hand-picked three of the four Council speakers, the one exception being the sitting one, Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan, Bronx).
Sheldon told the audience how he is no fan of Republicans or Democrats — saying there are many “sell-outs” in the latter, specifically in Jamaica, though he did not call out any Southeast Queens lawmakers by name. But throughout the night, Van Bramer’s name was mentioned as one of the people who, according to the panelists, says one thing but does another.
Forest echoed Sheldon’s point.
“And I think this speaker race brings together the question of the man on the street, versus the politician that claims to be progressive but is ultimately selling out the communities he pretends to represent,” Forest said.
Van Bramer said in a Wednesday emailed statement to the Chronicle, “I am proud of my record the past 8 years fighting for affordable housing for the neighborhoods I represent. I have stood up to developers when projects are not right for my district and have consistently listened to my constituents as I make decisions on land-use applications. If I am elected Speaker, I would continue fighting for more affordable housing throughout New York City and for a more fair and just city for all.”
Shelton added he is not a fan of groups that solely focus on pushing back against the policies of President Trump.
“If you didn’t realize that these things were happening way before Trump was part of the system, I really can’t trust it,” he said.