By Larry Gordon
The political landscape of Queens is going to be shifting with the coming local election this fall. In fact, the face of New York City is going to go through some significant changes with the end of the Bloomberg reign. At this juncture, it’s anyone’s guess who the next mayor is going to be.
As they begin to gear up for the primary face-offs in September, which, in New York’s Democratic Party, often is the very election itself, we had the opportunity over the last week or so to sit and talk at length with two political activists and luminaries of the Queens political scene. The first is former New York State Assemblyman Rory Lancman, who made a bid last year for a seat in Congress after six years in the Assembly and is currently running for a seat on the City Council. We also had the pleasure to meet with City Councilman Peter Vallone of the Vallone family political dynasty who is seeking the post of Queens Borough President.
Our discussions with both men focused on their districts, backgrounds, and vision for the future. Because of the many issues of relevance to the worldwide Jewish community that we focus on in these pages, a good deal of our conversation dealt with the very vibrant and robust New York Jewish community as well as their attachment to and concern for the State of Israel.
When it comes to New York and the Jewish community in this post–9/11 and now post–Boston Marathon era, the discussion inevitably turns to policing and security. This is perhaps the major issue on the minds of most New Yorkers, and so that is also a top priority of our legislators and government representatives.
Rory Lancman understands the sensitivities when it comes to serving his very diverse Queens constituency, which includes at least two dozen ethnic groups. As a product of the Queens Jewish community, Lancman also has a special insight into the needs and requirements of the prominent Jewish community in his 24th Assembly District in Queens.
Peter Vallone is the City Councilman representing the 22nd District in Queens—that is Long Island City, an area that does not have much of a Jewish community to speak of. But that fact has not impacted whatsoever on his level of concern for the Jewish community, particularly when it comes to matters of security in the city.
Vallone is seeking the position currently held by Helen Marshall, who is being “term-limited” out of the office of the Borough President. It is a crowded and even formidable field of candidates vying for that position, but polls show Vallone in the lead, already garnering the support of 26 percent of voters in the early running.
The councilman is a little late for our rendezvous because of a meeting with Mayor Bloomberg on proposed legislation and change in the controversial “stop and frisk” policy that allows police to stop what they perceive as suspicious people on the streets and search their pockets or bags without any court order or judicial intervention. Vallone describes himself as a conservative Democrat, and in his capacity as Public Safety Committee Chairman works overtime at the job of keeping New York safe from terror and crime.
Vallone joined Long Island Congressman Peter King as a vocal opponent of President Obama’s idea to try 9/11 terrorists in criminal court in lower Manhattan. This was back not too long ago when Obama was still dreaming about closing the prison set aside exclusively for enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
On terror and the stop-and-frisk program on the streets of New York, Vallone says that the city presently has more than 1,000 police staff assigned to anti-terror intelligence work. He says that to date, since 9/11, the police along with the FBI have prevented 14 terror attacks from being inflicted upon New Yorkers.
“Make no mistake,” he says; “they are planning on hitting New York City. It’s the intelligence work of our police force and it’s stop and frisk working together that keeps New Yorkers safe.”
For his part, former Assemblyman Lancman is focused on many of the same issues. Both Lancman and Vallone are attorneys who understand the nuances in the law. It was Lancman, by the way, who wrote the law in Albany that does not allow someone who reports something suspicious to be sued in case he was mistaken. Under the “See Something, Say Something” campaign, New Yorkers are encouraged to report anything that they may deem as suspicious.
For Peter Vallone, just as important as keeping our streets safe is the matter of keeping our schools safe. To that end the councilman has introduced the idea of funding unarmed school security officers as a protective mechanism for students in all schools, both public and private. “We have nurses in our schools to look after the well-being of our kids,” Vallone says. “I think their being safe is just as important.”
An interesting but less intense type of issue that Mr. Vallone took very seriously was the matter not long ago of renaming the Queensboro Bridge as the Ed Koch Bridge. Vallone says his family was very close to Mr. Koch, but he would have liked to see the bridge with the Queens name in it preserved. He suggests that they could have renamed some other thoroughfare for Mr. Koch such as the Whitestone Bridge or some other stretch of highway. “The Mayor wouldn’t think of doing that to the Brooklyn Bridge or the Williamsburg Bridge,” he says.
Both Lancman and Vallone are very outspoken and supportive of the State of Israel. Both have been to the Jewish state more than a few times and both reflect on the time spent there very fondly and report having learned a great deal about the security situation in Israel. “It’s a very vulnerable country surrounded by enemies on all sides,” Vallone says.
“A lot is going to change in New York,” says Rory Lancman. He enumerates among these changes the fact that there will be a new mayor after 12 years of Mike Bloomberg and that a great deal of the City Council is either being term-limited out or is facing reelection in some fashion. “With all kinds of changes coming, I think it is important that Queens Jewish community residents have a representative at the city level that understands the intricacies of Jewish life in New York,” says Lancman, whose children attend yeshivas. Members of the City Council are allocated sometimes tens of millions of dollars to distribute at their discretion. A good chunk of those funds can be used for myriad programs and projects that benefit our yeshivas and other community programs.
Vallone is one of the Council’s great supporters of the Police Department. He is engaged in a constant struggle to increase police presence on our streets and the numbers of cops on the force. He says that today, except for murder, crime is up in the city while the number of police on the force and on the streets is down. “There were 41,000 police on the force in 2001,” he says. “Today there are 35,000.”
On the race for mayor, Vallone says that he sees Council Speaker Christine Quinn as the clear frontrunner at this point and adds that she has the support—so far—of Mayor Bloomberg. On the matter of former Congressman Anthony Weiner making a run, both Lancman and Vallone believe he will enter the race. Lancman says that he does not see Weiner succeeding, as his negatives in polls are way too high.
The campaigns of these two outstanding public servants are about to get going in earnest. They are men of great insight, intellect, and accomplishment, rising stars on the New York political skyline, as well as being great friends of our communities. v
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