The first thing Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) will do, should he be re-elected Nov. 7, is taking all the plaques and commemorations off his district office wall.
“I told my staff, ‘It’s not about what we did in the past, it’s about what we’re going to do in the future,’” Ulrich said in an interview with the Chronicle’s editorial board Monday. “If we get re-elected, and we get a chance to serve people again for four more years, I don’t want to know what happened eight years ago, I want to know what we’re doing to help people now and in the future.”
Ulrich is running for a third, and final, full term representing the 32nd Council District, a position he’s held since 2009.
There are two reasons he believes the voters should pick him on Nov. 7 over Democratic challenger Mike Scala. The first is his track record of fighting for the communities he represents, specifically finding a balance in advocating for those on the mainland and in Rockaway.
“Before I got there, they had a very somewhat adversarial, competitive relationship because of what my predecessors were doing ... We really don’t hear much of that anymore,” he said. “What we’ve done in the mainland, we’ve tried to do the same in Rockaway.”
The second is that Mayor de Blasio will get another four years in office, and he believes he’s the only one who can stick up for his constituents.
“I think it’s critical we elect Council members who are truly independent, who fight for their constituents and who aren’t afraid to stand up to the mayor when necessary,” Ulrich said. “There aren’t many people like me in the Council.”
The councilman has brought the mayor to task on a number of issues — such as the slow progress of Build it Back and resiliency issues — and even considered running against him in November.
“I’m probably the No. 1 thorn in his side from Queens,” he said.
But, he added, that doesn’t mean all of his colleagues from this borough aren’t big fans of the mayor — some of them just express their displeasure in different ways than he does.
“They have a different style, they have a different approach,” Ulrich said. “They do a very good job fighting for their constituents but they’re doing it in a different way.”
Although he wouldn’t name anyone in particular, he added there are some who “lie down” and let the mayor do whatever he wants.
On spending, Ulrich wants to see changes to programs he calls “fiscally irresponsible.” One major example is the city paying hotels tens of thousands of dollars per week to house homeless people. Ulrich would like to see the return of Section 8 vouchers, which subsidized living expenses for the “working poor.”
“Let them live independently and with dignity,” he said.
Section 8 was paid for by the state and city of New York and expired under Mayor Bloomberg — it’s now only available in special circumstances. But there’s one thing standing in the way of reinstating the program — the feud between de Blasio and Gov. Cuomo.
“Because he doesn’t have a good relationship, not only with the governor but other people in Albany ... it’s no wonder we have 10,000 more homeless people in the shelter system, and many of them are women and children,” Ulrich said.
He added the Department of Environmental Protection is an area where “there are millions of dollars we’re spending that frankly no one can account for.”
But the fiscal conservative believes the city has not spent enough money in other areas — mainly, on veterans’ issues. In 2014, Ulrich became chairman of the Council’s Veterans Committee. At that time, the budget for the Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs was close to $400,000 — half of which went to the commissioner’s salary — and had five employees. The MOVA no longer exists; it’s been replaced by the Department of Veterans’ Services — an agency created by a law Ulrich introduced — which has 34 employees in all five boroughs and a budget of $3.9 million that goes to serving veterans on a number of issues.
“They handed me lemons and I made lemonade and limoncello,” he said. “It was an injustice that we corrected.”
The councilman would also like to see more money invested in the Administration for Children’s Services, particularly so the workload of case workers can be lessened. Right now, one employee may be working on 50 cases at a time.
“I don’t know why this isn’t more of a priority for this administration,” Ulrich said.
On Universal Pre-K and 3-K For All, the councilman is supportive of the concept but said he’d rather know if the former program has been effective before launching the latter.
“What are we trying to achieve here and are we meeting those objectives?” he asked. “How are we going to measure that success and how are we going to hold it accountable?”
UPK, he said, also needs to become “truly universal,” many parents in his district have problems finding the program in schools near their home — or are forced to send an older child to one place and a younger sibling to one farther away.
Throughout his campaign, Ulrich has been criticized by his opponent and some of his constituents for originally supporting a Constitutional Convention. He has since rescinded his support, saying calls, face-to-face conversations and social media messages were the reason for his change of heart.
“I did not receive five calls or 10 calls,” he said. “If I added everything up together ... I probably got two or 300 hundred calls ... After enough of those conversations, I took it under advisement and rescinded my support for ConCon.”
Should the ballot measure be approved on Election Day, Ulrich would like to be a part of the process.
“If it does pass, I would like to run for a delegate seat,” he said. “I wouldn’t need even need the salary, I’d donate it to charity.”
Regarding Woodhaven and Cross Bay boulevards, Ulrich said Select Bus Service is “going to be a disaster” once fully implemented and called for Traffic Signal Priority — which can change the timing of streetlights at designated intersections — to be implemented along the road.