City Council candidates looking to replace Karen Koslowitz got the chance to make their case to voters during a recent debate hosted by American Legion Post #1424 in Forest Hills.
Both candidates gave a whirlwind tour of their plans to help the district if elected.
Republican candidate Mike Conigliaro acknowledged the ongoing homeless crisis in Queens, and said in his opening statement that he’s against converting hotels into homeless shelters.
“We want to work to help them get rehabilitated and off the streets,” he said. “I want to use discretionary funding to give them jobs to help them clean the neighborhood.”
Conigliaro said he supports Curtis Sliwa for mayor, who holds similar positions on the matter, but emphasized that he would be willing to work with any local elected official, regardless of party affiliation, to address the district’s issues.
Democratic candidate Lynn Schulman said the pandemic revealed all the inequities in local government and highlighted her experience helping mentally disturbed persons as a patient advocate at a city hospital.
If elected, she plans to use this experience to ensure that city agencies meet the needs of homeless people in the district.
An audience member asked both candidates how they would prevent another homeless shelter from opening in the area, and cited how the one on Cooper Avenue has caused an increased police presence.
Conigliaro said the first step is to advocate for New York to become a resident-only state, so that out-of-state individuals would not be eligible for homeless services.
The second step would be to utilize abandoned city-owned buildings for the homeless population, and rely on faith-based shelters to meet the needs of those in the community.
Schulman’s approach would focus on getting people with mental health issues off the streets and into supportive housing, which she said needs to be more accessible.
She would also encourage the City Council to continue increasing vouchers for homeless people to get apartments.
“I was instrumental in getting supportive housing built by the hospital I worked at in Brooklyn, and it’s worked out terrifically,” she said. “People are getting their lives together.
“The shelter system should be a temporary solution to a long-term problem, and I agree that the current mayor has not done anything to help the homeless,” she added.
An issue that sparked a bit of back-and-forth between the candidates was the borough-based jail program.
While both candidates are against the jail proposed for Kew Gardens, their philosophies for handling the city’s inmate population are different.
Conigliaro supports using the funds allocated for community-based jails to instead fix Rikers Island and have it remain open, while Schulman believes in reducing the population at Rikers and implementing community-based restorative justice.
Conigliaro said he is “concerned” about Schulman’s position because in a past interview, she said that building four borough-based community centers was a “first step to decarceration.”
“I don’t see where you’re against the jail,” Conigliaro said to Schulman.
“I never said I was for the jail,” she replied.
“What that interview was about was that the community has to have input,” she added. “Decarceration is a loaded word, and what it means is we have to reduce the population at Rikers.”
In his closing statement, Conigliaro said that District 29 residents should vote for him if they’re looking for a candidate who will make sure small businesses, infrastructure and education are improved through a “law and order” philosophy.
“I will change this district in ways that will make it a beacon again,” he said, “the way it was when I was growing up.”
Schulman highlighted her past experience in government and work with various kinds of populations, and said she would continue these efforts for the community if elected.
“We need to make sure that we have hospital capacity, that we address the homeless issue and that we invest in our public school system,” she said. “These are all things that I know I can do.
“I’m somebody who gets to work with the community, bring it back from COVID and make it a viable community,” she said.
Post commander Michael Arcati said it was important to invite the candidates because the City Council is the first line of defense and support for residents.
“We need to have a connection to provide services to the veterans who are in need or homeless,” said Arcati. “Sometimes we make a phone call to every state, city and federal agency and each one just points the finger at the other to call for help. But nobody’s helping.”