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Aggressive Driving

Queens’s Next Top Prosecutor Dodges Whether She’d Boot CB Member Who Said Pedestrians ‘Deserve’ to Die

Queens Borough President and next District Attorney Melinda Katz taking questions on Wednesday. Photo: Julianne Cuba

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz still refuses to join her colleagues in condemning the community board member and city employee, who said at a public meeting that pedestrians “deserve” to die if they cross the street while looking at their phones.

Katz, who officially declared victory Tuesday as the borough's next District Attorney — who will have the power to prosecute reckless drivers and other vehicular crimes — has not responded to any of Streetsblog’s inquiries about whether she’d boot the board member, Kim Ohanian, from the public panel after her disturbing comments undermining Mayor de Blasio’s signature Vision Zero initiative went viral in a two-month old video.

And Katz again declined to answer the question on Wednesday, telling Streetsblog during a press conference about her victory that she had a “conversation” with Ohanian — and has not made a decision about the next round of community board appointments next year. Borough Presidents have the power to appoint and remove members from community boards.

“First of all, I haven't said it was okay, and we did have a conversation with her. Second, she hasn't been reappointed yet so next year the appointments happen,” said Katz.

Katz reappointed Ohanian, who earns $115,000 working for the Department of Environmental Protection in addition to her unpaid position on the civic panel, to Community Board 7 board last spring.

And Katz, who in 2016 tried to kill the life-saving Queens Boulevard bike lane, seemed to defend Ohanian’s right to make the comments because, apparently, she made them as a private citizen and not as a community board member — despite wishing for pedestrian deaths at a Queensboro Hill Flushing Civic Association meeting. And Ohanian was there to hear the Department of Transportation plan for bike lanes on 59th and 60th avenues as part of the Queens Community District 7 Bike Network Plan — she was not at the meeting as a casual onlooker, but as a participant.

“I would caution against first amendment rights, versus the fact that we have a community board member, that she was not there representing the community board,” Katz said Wednesday.

Katz said that her refusal to say whether she’d boot Ohanian from the board has nothing to do with her ability to prosecute reckless drivers.

“We will take very seriously vehicular crimes and make sure they are punished and get the help they need. You cannot equate a criminal activity that actually happened with a statement,” she said.

At least four of the beep’s Queens colleagues — who are all vying for her seat as the next Borough President once she takes office as top prosecutor — said they would either not reappoint Ohanian or immediately kick her off.

“Disgraceful. I would not reappoint. Saying people deserve to be run over by cars merits removal in my book,” Queens Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer tweeted.

Even the mayor rebuked Ohanian’s comments, saying last month that they warranted an investigation and a possible termination. At the same meeting, Ohanian had said the mayor's signature Vision Zero initiative is "a joke."

"It’s absolutely inappropriate [and] we’re going to look into who that employee is and whatever appropriate disciplinary measures can be taken,” de Blasio said during an unrelated press conference on July 19. “That’s someone who does not understand their responsibilities as a public servant.”

The beep, who declined an interview with Streetsblog about her campaign for District Attorney back in June, also said that her life has been shaped by the death of her mother, who was killed 50 years ago by a drunk driver.

“My entire life has been seen through the lens of being a victim of a driver out there who went into a car, chose to drive down that street, and my mother was a victim of that crime,” said Katz.

As DA, Katz will have broad power to prosecute reckless drivers — and even use existing tools such as charging drivers who kill with vehicular homicide or criminally negligent homicide, tools that her predecessor Richard Brown rarely used. Her challenger for District Attorney, Tiffany Caban, had make prosecuting reckless drivers a key part of her platform.

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