By Katie McFadden
With Election Day coming up on November 7, most of the Belle Harbor Property Owners Association (BHPOA) meeting on Tuesday, October 17 at P.S. 114, was used to give some of the Queens District Attorney candidates on the ballot an opportunity to introduce themselves and plead their case for why they should be elected.
BHPOA President Paul King began the evening with some updates, saying next month’s meeting in November will focus on Mayor Eric Adams’ “City of Yes” plan, which King compared to YIMBY, and a plan similar to what Governor Kathy Hochul was trying to do last year, including allowing for Accessory Dwelling Units in communities, in which people can turn spaces like their garages into living spaces. He also gave a quick update on the beach access ramps, which will also be discussed later, and the latest with the migrant shelter coming to Floyd Bennett Field, but the first of the presentations focused on the future of Floyd Bennett Field and the plans that the Jamaica Bay Rockaway Parks Conservancy (JBRPC) and other partners have and are developing to bring the area back to life.
Despite the current issues going on with Floyd Bennett Field (FBF), JBRPC Executive Director Terri Carta was on hand to discuss their plans to move forward with what’s to come for FBF’s future. Carta explained that the National Park Service has had hopes of activating Floyd Bennett Field for decades by making it a more vibrant area, adding more programming and renovating the old buildings and hangars to reuse them, and Carta was visiting the civic to hear more about what local residents would like to see at FBF.
JBRPC began seeking community input in 2020, and so far, some ideas that have been requested include a research space on the resiliency of Jamaica Bay, workforce development in green career paths, addressing challenges with transportation and accessibility to FBF, and implementing community-centered programs and activities to draw more visitors to FBF, on top of the activities and programs that already exist.
Some plans are already set in motion, like hosting a weekend-long arts festival from April 19-21, 2024. Another plan in the works is to bring a school facility. Working with CUNY and the Science and Resilience Institute, there are plans to bring a field station for research and field programs relating to the sustainability of Jamaica Bay, to FBF. The school center will be called the Urban Futures Hub and will be located in Building 26.
Then, there are bigger plans, like renovating Hangars 3 and 4. The National Park Service has been designated $26.625 million dollars from the federal budget that will help them renovate the exterior of the buildings. Once that renovation is winding down, JBRPC will come in to fit out the interior of the spaces with programming, so they’re seeking feedback on ideas for what type of programming people want. NPS expects to begin the exterior work in early 2025 and JBRPC hopes to have the hangars activated and in use by 2028. Some suggestions so far have been to bring in food vendors, and arts and cultural programming. JBRPC will continue to develop this through 2031, so that by Floyd Bennett Field’s 100th anniversary on May 23, 2031, the area will be back to its full glory.
At Tuesday’s meeting, one neighbor suggested there be aviation programming and field trips to FBF for schools to learn about the history. Another suggested helicopter rides be offered. JBRPC will continue to hold meetings across the community to gain more feedback.
Next up was a chance for Queens District Attorney candidates Gregory Grasso, running on the Independent Public Safety line, and Michael Mossa, running on the Republican/ Conservative ticket, to explain why they should be elected. Current Democrat DA Melinda Katz was also invited to defend her position but had a scheduling conflict. Both Queens residents who have experience working in law, Grasso and Mossa shared some similar views on their plans to handle the crime crisis in the borough in the wake of challenges like bail reform.
Grasso has 30 years of experience with the NYPD, starting as a foot cop in Queens in 1980. He got promoted all the way up the ranks to Inspector and in 1997, became deputy commissioner for legal matters, serving as the chief lawyer for the NYPD until 2002. NYPD commissioner Raymond Kelly then appointed him to first deputy police commissioner, for which he served eight years until Mayor Bloomberg appointed him as judge for the NY Criminal court, where he served for 13 years until he decided to resign on August 31, 2022, to pursue running for Queens DA. “I feel strongly about public safety and I know I have the qualifications, ability and courage to do something about it,” Grasso said.
Mossa has served as a criminal attorney for more than 20 years. “We all know what’s going on and it’s not just shoplifting, it’s not just bail reform, it’s disregard of the middle class and lawlessness on our streets. It’s one party ruling everything, and it has tilted all the way to the left. It’s a tug of war and if we don’t pull that rope, our city, our borough, is not gonna survive,” Mossa said about why he’s running.
Each candidate was then asked a question submitted by the community, by moderator Mark Healey of The Wave, and given two minutes to answer. First, each candidate was asked about their vision for Queens and Rockaway. Grasso mentioned how the 100th Precinct is one of the safest in the city but said there is room for improvement as there has been an uptick in robberies. “What we need to do is get back to quality-of-life policing, broken windows. I’m a quality-of-life guy. We need to tend to shoplifting, drug dealing, panhandling, e-bikes that are out of control. I have a community action plan to bring in clergy, merchants associations, commanding officers, civic organizations and discuss what your priorities are and what you want out of law enforcement and your district attorney, and I guarantee I will make it happen,” Grasso said.
Mossa said, “To make it simple, prosecute shoplifting. You shouldn’t be going to stores with stuff locked up. It’s a bad image. It makes you feel uncomfortable. There’s a lack of will to prosecute these crimes. Why are career criminals walking the streets? There should be something like three strikes and you’re out. Also, in a community like Rockaway, there’s a problem with reckless driving. One of the most horrific stories I heard was about Ava Conklin, killed by a reckless driver. That won’t be tolerated. People take advantage of disregarding safety. We don’t need you on the road if you’re not going to be considerate of other’s safety.”
Asked to expand on their thoughts on prosecuting small crimes like shoplifting, Mossa blamed it on the progressive movement. “They took control of the democrat party, and their slogan was, you cannot criminalize poverty. That basically gives the free reign that allowed bail reform. Poverty is never an excuse for crime. You steal, you go to jail. I see some of these people get arrested and some learn a lesson and turn their lives around,” Mossa said. Grasso said, “I don’t believe in the concept of crime and punishment per se. I’m not going to chase you down to the ends of the earth to get a loaf of bread back. I do believe in crime and accountability, and if you have accountability that is commensurate with the act, it is amazing what we can accomplish for public safety. We don’t need to fill up Rikers. 2020 had record lows in crime and a record low population at Rikers, but we did have accountability and this legislature broke that. Electing someone like me if how we fix it.”
Asked about how they would address incidents involving police and unruly citizens, Grasso said he takes a fair approach. “In my experience, I’ve looked at cases inside and out, and when I had cases of police brutalizing the public or stealing drugs or money, I was the worst enemy they had. I went to trials in those cases and put together prosecution that led to their termination. But when officers find themselves in a myriad of ambiguous cases where we get snippets of video, we can’t have a DA who’s going to succumb to political pressure. I have 43 years’ experience in criminal justice, and when I thought a cop was right, I was a brick wall defending them. When they were wrong, too bad.” Mossa said, “Police have a difficult job and should be supported. In incidents between citizens and police, we have independent review boards that look at it, but my first instinct, if I’m DA, is to defend my police officers.”
Asked how they’d handle lewd behavior at Riis Park, Grasso said he would bring the NYPD and U.S. Park Police together to identify who has authority and how they could resolve the issue. Mossa said, “When it’s people who do it continuously and if it affects children, that’s something I would be concerned about. We’re not gonna arrest the woman sunbathing topless. But I think there are people that want to corrupt our children.”
Due to bail reform and certain legislature laws, where certain crimes cannot be prosecuted, both were asked what alternatives they would use. Mossa said, “We’re going to ask for bail and if we can’t according to law, I’m going to go to the media and demand that the governor changes the laws.” Grasso said, “My plan is to create community action. I’m going to go into Rockaway and understand people’s priorities. I’m going to invite local assembly and senators and involve them and make them think, and if they don’t have the courage to stand up to Speaker Heastie, they’re going to hear about it from Grasso.”
Both came out strongly against bail reform, against community shelters and jails, against gang violence and unruly e-bikes on the boardwalk. Asked if either of them thought they could win in a democrat-ruled city, both said it all depends on if people come out to vote, saying that when DA Katz won, only 8% of New Yorkers voted in that election. Early voting begins October 28 and continues through November 5. The general election is November 7.