Feb. 21, 2020 By Allie Griffin
Mayor Bill de Blasio was booed and heckled by community members at a Forest Hills town hall hosted by Council Member Karen Koslowitz Wednesday night.
Concerned community members hammered de Blasio on topics such as bail reform, local homeless shelters, the incoming Kew Gardens jail, bike lanes, diversity at city schools and more during the two-hour town hall at Russell Sage JHS 190 on Austin Street.
Many resident were concerned over public safety in the neighborhood with the new bail reforms, an incoming jail and homeless shelters.
“Many violent criminals are being released and New York City is becoming crime city,” one resident said to the mayor. “Could you please get rid of bail reform to make our cities safer?”
De Blasio called the narrative against bail reform “propaganda” and said New York City remains the safest big city in the country with the NYPD working diligently to protect its residents. He also added that he is working with Albany to resolve issues he has with the reforms.
The reforms ended pretrial detention and cash bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies, requiring judges to automatically release people charged with such crimes as they await trial.
At least three community members spoke out against the borough-based jail plan to close Rikers Island jail and replace it with smaller jails in four boroughs — including one in Kew Gardens.
One resident said she is considering moving before the jail is built.
“I have lived in Queens my whole life. I have been in this area about 14 years,” she said. “Mr. Mayor, I do not feel safe.”
Two other residents alleged the community was never involved in the jail plan process. One said that the community input meetings were just “$50,000 in PR and paper.”
The mayor responded that the decision to to approve the borough-based jail plan in order to shutter Rikers Island jail belongs to “your democratically elected representatives — that’s how it works.”
Kew Gardens was the obvious place to put a jail because there was already once a jail there, he said. However, the City agreed to lower its original height–from an estimated 27 stories to 19– and add parking spaces after listening to the community, he added.
Another resident had a similar complaint about the 200-bed mens’ homeless shelter that recently opened in nearby Glendale, saying the shelter “was shoved down our throats,” without taking community input.
“It is disgusting because now I don’t feel safe here anymore,” she said. “Now I have to buy more locks for my doors and a security system because you’re not trying to help these men, you’re warehousing them.”
The mayor said he understood that people don’t want homeless shelters in their community, but said they aren’t “warehousing” people.
He said the shelter residents are working people like everyone in this room, who lost their housing.
“I am not going to see someone who needs a home and is on the street not have a shelter, not have a roof over their head.”
The night grew to a boiling point when one resident, David Rem, called de Blasio “the worst mayor that New York City’s ever had,” and was escorted out of the auditorium.
Rem called Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza “a top shelf racist” against Asian students and parents.
Carranza has been repeatedly criticized by parents and local officials for what they’ve called disrespect and disregard towards the Asian American community in a proposal to overhaul the admissions process to the city’s specialized schools.
Edwin Wong with the Forest Hills Asian Association spoke next and said he echoed some of the comments made by Rem.
“Many in the Asian community and Asian American community do not feel that the current Chancellor has their back,” Wong said. “They feel that he is racist for certain reasons.”
The mayor leaped to defend Carranza and said calling the Chancellor racist is “an absolute mischaracterization.”
However de Blasio admitted that he and Carranza mishandled the proposal to change the admissions criteria for the city’s specialized schools.
“I didn’t handle it well and [Carranza] didn’t handle it well,” de Blasio said.
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) February 19, 2020