Queens Chronicle: The tough-talking impudence of Bo Dietl stuck out like nothing else at Tuesday night’s candidates forum at St. John’s University.
Along with the other hopefuls, the independent challenger to de Blasio was asked which New York City elected official he would most and least like to be stuck for 10 minutes in a elevator with.
“Most? Bill de Blasio, so I could punch him,” Dietl said. And city Comptroller Scott Stringer, he said, was least because he “hasn’t done a damn thing” in his job as the city’s financial guardian.
Responding to the same question, Stringer joked that he would like to be stuck with Dietl because it would be “fun.” To which the brash ex-lawman replied: “I don’t know if it’s gonna be fun after 10 minutes.”
Dietl did not spare Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-Staten Island, Brooklyn), the Republican candidate for mayor, either.
“Well, I’m glad, Nicole, you went to a housing project yesterday,” he mocked. “Eight different ones. Welcome to the campaign. I guess when you run for mayor, you visit housing projects.”
The event, which was sponsored by the Queens Tribune and other groups, was split into two parts. First, there was a forum in which a range of issues was discussed by the citywide candidates — for mayor: Democratic primary hopefuls Sal Albanese, Richard Bashner, Mike Tolkin, Malliotakis and Dietl; for city comptroller: Stringer, Republican Michel Faulkner; and public advocate: Democratic primary candidate David Eisenbach and the Republican challenger, Juan Carlos Polanco.
De Blasio and Public Advocate Letitia James did not attend. Stringer and Borough President Melinda Katz were the only elected officials making their case on the stage of the school’s Little Theater.
After that, Katz and the Republican candidate for borough president, William Kregler, one-on-one took questions from a panel of SJU students and Tribune reporters.
The candidates took questions on some of the biggest concerns in city government, like homelessness, an issue that has been contentious in this borough.
“What you have seen is a number of hotels here in Queens that have been transitioned to shelters in which the taxpayers are paying tens of millions of dollars for contracts to private developers instead of using that money to try and build affordable housing and supportive housing,” Malliotakis said.
Dietl suggested that homeless shelters be built on Rikers Island and Randall’s Island, which are city property, so they aren’t “in the backyards of New York City.”
The hopefuls also took on another housing issue — whether the New York City Housing Authority, whose financial situation has suffered from federal divestment, should be privatized.
“When it comes to management, we shouldn’t be privatizing NYCHA, but we should be deploying private-sector best practices,” Tolkin, a tech capitalist considered a longshot candidate in the Democratic primary race for mayor, said. “We need to be operating with greater competence and greater efficiency.”
Faulkner, a Harlem pastor, spoke about the situation of a NYCHA tenant in Manhattan whose bathroom ceiling was leaking for more than two years. “The problem is we don’t have people at City Hall who really care,” he said. “The people at NYCHA have been political pawns for too long; I will change that.”
During the “lighting round,” all the citywide candidates said they would like to see the Rockaway Beach Rail Line restored.
Another question asked the hopefuls if the United Federation of Teachers has “undue influence” over city education policy.
“The testing regimes that are being implemented to create students who are good little test takers — well, that’s not the way in which we’re gonna get the entrepreneurs of tomorrow, the artists, the thinkers,” said Eisenbach, who teaches history at Columbia University.
A former teacher and UFT member, Polanco said that while he liked being part of the union, when he was a member it occurred to him that the organization has some serious problems.
“You realize that the same people you thought were looking out for you were not looking out for the children more than they were looking out for their members,” said the candidate. The UFT, he added, has a “stronghold” over both city and state governments.
What role the city should play in the crisis facing the MTA was also discussed by the candidates.
Stringer said that, in the short term, the city has a “responsibility” toward funding the plan put forth by MTA Chairman Joe Lhota. And for a long-term solution, he said, “We need to put all ideas on the table — whether it’s congestion pricing, whether it’s a tax to raise revenue or an idea that I have, which is to support a transportation bond act to raise $2.9 billion.”
Albanese ripped the mayor for the politics of how he has handled the transportation crisis. “You gotta work with the governor and the Legislature,” the former Brooklyn councilman said. “You can’t make this personal. It’s part of your job. We have to fix and fund the system.”
The candidate also mentioned how he went to de Blasio’s gym in Park Slope, urging the incumbent to take the train; the mayor ended up doing so.
Bashner, a lawyer and Brooklyn community board member, suggested using a revenue stream that Cuomo has praised to fund fixes to the MTA crisis.
“I agree with congestion pricing. Along with the governor, we need to work out a proposal that works,” he said. “There is one source. Another source would be a carbon tax on commercial buildings and residential buildings to support the transit system.”
Katz and Kregler took the stage shortly after the citywide candidates forum ended.
Each candidate at one point was asked what their “ideal vision” for Willets Point is.
“Right now, we did not need another mall,” Kregler said, referring to a related plan for the Citi Field parking lot. “You could throw a stone and hit the other mall on the other side of the water. … If I was going to use it for anything, put a stadium there, for soccer.”
He’s not the first person to make that proposal.
“I have called over the last year for a soccer stadium and affordable housing to put on those 35 acres that we now control,” Katz said about Willets Point proper. While the borough president added that any plan would require input from the community, she said she would support the construction of a stadium for soccer and housing units that are 100 percent affordable.
The incumbent and her Republican challenger were also asked about how to balance the development needed for a growing borough with preserving the character of neighborhoods.
“One of the arguments that I consistently have with the City Planning Commission is that they have not downzoned one neighborhood in four years,” Katz said, adding that some areas are not appropriate for high-density development.
Kregler stressed how important zoning is to communities, and how it must be followed closely. The zoning code, he said, “addresses the quality of life. We have to stop trying to put another million, two million people in the city. It’s going to bust.”