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Queens Chronicle

Katz looks back at time in Boro Hall

Jamaica renaissance, library reform and public works top beep’s tenure

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Posted: Thursday, October 17, 2019 10:30 am | Updated: 12:31 pm, Thu Oct 24, 2019.

If next month’s special election for Queens District Attorney does not remove Melinda Katz from the Borough President’s Office on Jan. 1. 2020, term limits will do so a year later.

Four Democrats, in fact, already have requisitioned measuring tapes for the office drapes, metaphorically speaking, with others expected to announce their intentions shortly.

During a recent sitdown with the editorial board of the Chronicle, Katz admitted she had planned to see completed by 2021.

“With the speed with which the city builds things, a lot,” she said. “I’ve funded a lot of projects. We’ve done something like $180 million to $200 million in projects. I’ve cut a few ribbons on those projects, and we’ve gotten a shovel in the ground for a lot more of them.”

Katz wants to see one thing in particular done in the coming weeks.

“I do want to make sure that the New York State Pavilion [from the 1964-65 World’s Fair] has a shovel in the ground for the lighting, the stairs and the cement work that comes with that before Dec. 31,” she said. “There are a few parks that I know are ready for the shovel in the ground; they’re just finishing the designs.”

As for the Vietnam memorial in Elmhurst Park, Katz is looking for a ribbon cutting in November or early December.

“That’s going to get completed if I have to go out there and cement the stuff myself,” she said.

Katz’s first term saw her take on the Queens Library’s Board of Trustees and former CEO Tom Galante beginning in 2013 over numerous financial irregularities that were made public.

Working with state legislative leaders and Gov. Cuomo, Katz and Mayor de Blasio obtained the legal tools to oust eight members of the board and eventually replace them and Galante.

“One of my biggest accomplishments,” she said. “It also gave me my chance to use my legal training. When the board of directors was making some decisions I knew weren’t right, and the committees weren’t acting properly, I knew it.”

Among her top disappointments, Katz lists the collapse last February of a deal that would have brought a second Amazon world headquarters complex to Queens.

“It was hard for me to believe that a company like that would back out, you know, take their ball and go home,” she said. “For us, it was a setback. We had a strategic plan for Long Island City, and it was for the very purpose of getting tech companies to invest in Long Island City. That is exactly what we did.” Katz said she believes there was much misunderstanding and misinformation over the $2.5 billion in tax considerations being offered to the company.

“Hopefully people know by now that these were tax credits and not cash, that when Amazon died, that people realized even after the fact that the $2.5 billion wasn’t cash, the $2.5 billion was in tax credits that was only privy to the company after they had created 40,000 jobs.” She said it was the same for $500 million in promised capital money.

“Not only did we lose that, we lost the faith of companies that may want to come,” she said. “And make no mistake about it — in Queens County we have to diversify our economy. We have to. We’re growing fast and furiously with young people, which is great. But they need jobs.”

She said the reconstruction of John F. Kennedy International and LaGuardia airports will have a ripple effect in the economy.

Should Katz win the election in November — she is the prohibitive favorite as the Democratic nominee — she will be very involved with the results of the mayor’s plan to close the city jails on Rikers Island and replace them with four new community jails, one in each borough except Staten Island.

She says she is not opposed to closing Rikers, but is not sold on a then-potential 1,400-bed facility that would be built by the courthouse in Kew Gardens.

“I didn’t vote against closing Rikers,” Katz said. “I voted against the mayor’s plan.”

With de Blasio running up against an increasing problem with the city’s homelessness, Katz is a backer of legislation from Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) to provide funds to people facing eviction over economic reasons, which she said is far less expensive than the shelter system.

As for proposals afoot in California that would, if passed, allow the state and cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco to impose shelters by skirting zoning regulations for things like building height and density, Katz has some friendly advice for City Hall.

“I wouldn’t suggest it for the city, period,” she said.

Another major project Katz looks to with pride is her ongoing Jamaica Now initiative, which has brought everything from traffic redesign to information kiosks — complete with Wi-Fi —along the commercial corridors.

“I think it was awesome,” she said, asked to give the project a grade. “Is it finished? There’s still things we’re working on. But the kiosks — we were supposed to be the first ones in the city get them but we were the second — they were game-changers. We’re advertising cultural events in Jamaica nationally. There’s the refurbishment of Rufus King Park. ... [H]otels and retail have grown there. It’s a pretty exciting change.”

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