Connecting Transportation and Politics in Southern Queens

southern_queens_bus.jpgNYLCV is sending out 12,000 mailers for the February 24 City Council special election in southern Queens.

On the scale of absurd political theater, fare hike hearings in New York City rank very close to the top. Elected officials heap scorn on the MTA, diverting attention from their own responsibility for underfunding transit, while beleaguered
straphangers beg board members for a reprieve that depends on those same electeds. It’s a cycle of frustration, blame, and unaccountability.

How to change the equation? An intriguing attempt is currently unfolding in southern Queens, where, in less than a month, voters will choose a replacement for Joseph Addabbo, who left the City Council following his election to the State Senate in November.

The New York League of Conservation Voters and the Campaign for New York’s Future have launched a voter education campaign devoted to transportation issues in the 32nd council district, a car-dependent area that includes Ozone Park, Broad Channel, and part of the Rockaways. "So many folks head to the polls and they think about how their candidates stand on education, or what their stance is on guns and crime," says Dan Hendrick of the NYLCV. "The objective of this campaign is to make sure that transportation and mass transit are voting issues as well."

The campaign is not endorsing a specific candidate, but drawing attention to the need for better transit service and to the area’s crippling traffic. Broad Channel and Rockaway residents have been in the news lately for griping about tolls on the Cross Bay Bridge. NYLCV intends to broaden the discussion. "One of their big needs is more express bus service," said Hendrick, who envisions the campaign as a continuation of last year’s public debate about congestion pricing. "Because the area is so car-dependent, [rush hour] congestion is a real problem in that district."

A local partner, the South Ozone Park Civic Association West, is helping to organize a candidates’ forum next Wednesday, where voters can get their would-be council members to go on the record with a transit platform. Six candidates are in the running [PDF] (including, still, Michael Ricatto).

"We really want to heighten the sense of accountability of our elected officials," said Hendrick. "Whoever gets elected, they’ll go into office knowing, ‘Transit is a big priority in my district.’"

Voters in the 32nd council district go the polls on February 24. When regular City Council elections roll around later this year, Hendrick said, NYLCV plans to build on this model and ramp up transportation campaigns in more districts. "Definitely the idea here is to replicate this on a much larger scale in the fall."

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