The race for City Council District 19 will feature a rare occurrence in Queens: a Republican primary.
John-Alexander Sakelos, who made headlines in November in the Assembly District 26 race against incumbent Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside), has thrown his hat in the ring to replace term-limited City Councilmember Paul Vallone (D-Bayside).
“I think that I’m the best choice for Republicans to represent them in District 19,” he told the Chronicle in a Jan. 29 interview. “I think there’s a leadership vacuum that needs to be filled by a new generation of public servant.”
Sakelos officially announced his candidacy Feb. 3. Prior to the reveal, Vickie Paladino had been the lone GOP candidate on the ballot. The Whitestone resident ran for the state Senate District 11 seat in 2018, but was beaten by John Liu (D-Bayside). She recently stirred commotion this December after she was one of many featured in a viral video dancing maskless at the Whitestone Republican Club’s holiday party.
There are also five Democrats vying for the seat, including former state Sen. Tony Avella and Community Education Council 26 President Adriana Aviles.
Sakelos, a professional stage actor union member, humanities professor and product of a small business family, was inspired to run in the 2021 election after evaluating the final results of his Assembly run — Braunstein won his sixth term by a margin of about 5,000 votes.
Though the city position would tackle different issues than the state seat, Sakelos is confident his priorities and values would seamlessly transfer if he’s to be elected.
“My No. 1 priority is refunding the NYPD the billion dollars,” Sakelos said, pointing to the 2021 budget City Council approval in June. “That cut that you made to the NYPD doesn’t save you very much money, but it hurts on the street.”
He pointed to the citywide surge in violent crimes throughout 2020, such as the 45 percent increase in murders, and particularly the 97 percent increase in shootings. The total number of shooting victims jumped 103 percent for the year.
In his campaign for Assembly, Sakelos said the bail reform laws contributed greatly to the chaos, a stance that earned him the endorsement of the Police Benevolent Association. In his Council bid, he promises to evaluate other laws, such as the NYPD chokehold ban, which he said sounds great in theory, but strips law enforcement officers of the ability to fulfil their duties and leaves them liable to civil lawsuits. Those who passed the legislation did not have experience in law enforcement and did not understand the “harmful” effects it would have, he said.
“If they weren’t here make no mistake this would be the Wild West with concrete,” Sakelos said of the police. “We need to support these guys. We need to make sure that their job is being respected and the fact that they go out every day and put their lives on the line is being respected.”
In terms of law enforcement reform, Sakelos said legislation needs to be crafted around weeding out officers who abuse power, but not punishing those who adhere to the rules. The current model of reform, he said, scares the good officers from doing the work they’re supposed to do.
NYPD funding is not the only money issue on Sakelos’ mind — the entire city budget needs to be “fixed,” with all spending allocations being properly used.
“We’re in the red because of mismanagement,” Sakelos said. “The city is really good at spending money. They have a knack for it, actually, but they’re not really good at getting results.”
He pointed to the roads in District 19, many of which would benefit from some revamping and a good cleaning. The area’s green spaces have also been suffering since the last budget session, he said — while the work that activist environmental groups, like the Friends of Crocheron and John Golden Park, are doing is commendable and amazing, the burden of caring for park property should be on the government.
His solution is to create a budget transparency committee that would allow constituents to not only clearly see where funding is being allocated, but to understand where project bids are being contracted. The result would be a complete overhaul of several city departments.
Monies will be tight this year, but Sakelos looks forward to figuring out the budget puzzle.
“We have to tighten our belts. We have to reallocate funds that were wasted. There’s tons of fat,” he said. “Let’s start balancing our budget like a small business.”
Small businesses have been among the most significant victims of the pandemic, a struggle Sakelos understands all too well — his family owns Flowers by Peter in Flushing and has seen a 35 percent drop in business over the past year.
“It is very, very difficult. Thank God we’re holding on, but a lot of our peers are not,” Sakelos said.
State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli estimated that about half of the city’s restaurants will permanently close because of the crisis, and the city Department of Planning released a Jan. 28 report that 20 percent of hotels in the five boroughs have already gone belly up.
Getting business owners the help they need, especially mom-and-pops and those that employ city residents, means tax credits and additional Payment Protection Program loans, Sakelos said. He also said that it was “disgusting” that multibillion dollar corporations were bailed out before the struggling small businesses that make New York City what it is.
Additionally, Sakelos said the Council should prioritize bringing business into the city. For example, the young candidate denounced the government’s hand in Amazon dropping its plan to move one of its second headquarters to Long Island City.
“If we would have had that, that would have been 20,000 jobs in LIC that would have been up and running right now,” said Sakelos. “There would have been New Yorkers with jobs, and the restaurants, delis and bars around there would have been serving lunch and delivering meals and creating employment and opportunity. Instead nobody’s at work.”
Sakelos believes it’s time for the world to start opening again: businesses, schools, everything.
“We need to start allowing people to make the decision on their own. We’re at a stage now we’re talking about personal liberty and I think the city and state have gone way over the mark,” said Sakelos.