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Drag Queens in public schools prompts Council infighting

Queens Councilwoman Vickie Paladino continues to draw criticism from local elected officials over a series of opinionated tweets directed against the “Drag Queen Story Hour” program. The new program, which according to a story published by The New York Post reportedly cost taxpayers more than $200,000 to fund, invites cross-dressing performers to read to local school children in New York City.

In her comments online, the Councilwoman refers to the program as an act of “child grooming” and “sexualization” in the schools. Paladino would later clarify her statement by claiming that it is part of the “political, social, and cultural indoctrination of impressionable young children, often without parental consent,” calling it both “unacceptable and inappropriate.”

In response, several members of the city council fired back calling her commentary “homophobic” and “hateful.”

In a recent interview with Pix11 News, City Councilman Erik Bottcher said that her comparison was completely off base. “A groomer is a child molester,” Bottcher explains. “To compare my community to child molesters is totally unacceptable.”

Paladino, however, argued that her commentary was intended to shed light on the spending priorities of the city administration, however, due to how it was presented online, was viewed by colleagues as a personal attack.

As a result, Paladino found herself in hot water, while several Democratic city officials fired back with statements of their own, condemning her over “bigoted comments” regarding the program—-which is intended to promote the acceptance of queer youth in schools—-and calling for her to be formally censored and stripped of her committee assignments.

“This type of hatred shouldn’t be tolerated from anyone, especially another elected official,” Councilwoman Lynn Schulman tweeted in response. “As a proud lesbian member of the New York City Council from Queens and a funder of Drag Queens Story Hour I am saddened and angry that a colleague would be threatened by the teaching of tolerance in our schools.”

Openly gay City Councilman Chi Ossé also fired back on Twitter, stating that as chairman of the Committee on Cultural affairs he condemns the bigoted remarks made in regards to the nonprofit program which teaches acceptance to the City’s youth.

“NYC is a safe haven where our queer community is welcomed and loved,” Ossé said in his response.

Co-chairs of the LGBTQIA+ Caucus Councilwoman Crystal Hudson and Councilwoman Tiffany Cabán also admonished the statements made by Paladino, reiterating that the program is a “wonderful, wholesome, and vital program” that invites children to see themselves as unique individuals with the right to be whoever they want. “It shows queer youth and their peers alike that each of our existence is valid — that we all belong.”

In response to the outpour of complaints against her, Paladino issued a statement on Friday, reaffirming that her stance was strictly in opposition to the use of taxpayer dollars and that her statements were not intended as a personal attack or accusation against anyone.

“At a time when there has been a dramatic increase in the crime rate in New York City and a large number of New Yorkers are struggling to make ends meet by living paycheck to paycheck, I would like to make one thing very clear: I am NOT apologizing or retracting my statement against using taxpayer dollars to fund Drag Queen Story Hour in our public schools,” Paladino said in an official statement.

Paladino maintained that her stance was made on behalf of her constituents in Queens, several of whom she said are concerned over the propagation of gender confusion and adult entertainment in public schools.

Paladino added that she was appalled by the reaction of her colleagues considering the vast number of issues currently facing our city, including homelessness, housing, mental health, public safety, and food shortages.

“Let me be clear – I fully support adults making their own free decision about who they are and how to express themselves… but I do NOT condone exposing little children to inappropriate narratives that encourage gender radicalism,” Paladino said in her statement.

While this is a new program for public schools, Drag Queen Story Hour has been featured at public libraries since 2017.

Councilwoman Julie Won recently attended one of the many Drag Story Hour events at the Queens Public Library in Woodside as a show of support to the LGBTQ+ community.

“This is a wonderful program that teaches children about inclusion and the history of the LGBTQ community,” Won said in her tweet. “As long as I am in council, I will continue to support programs like DSH to build communities that are inclusive and loving to all forms of self expression.”

Paladino still feels there is still much to be discussed. In her statement, she concludes by extending the opportunity for open dialogue with any of her fellow Council members who wish to take her up on the offer.

Republicans get a voice in race for speaker

Who says the Republican Party is dead in New York City?
While it wasn’t exactly a red wave that swept over the city, the GOP did make surprising gains in the City Council.
The party was able to hold on to three seats – two on Staten Island and one in Queens – as well as pick up a vacant seat in south Brooklyn.
In Queens, Joann Ariola, who chairs the Queens County Republican Party, cruised to an easy victory over Felicia Singh, replacing the only Republican elected official left in the borough in Eric Ulrich, who is term-limited out of office at the end of the year.
In Brooklyn, Republican candidate Inna Vernikov also had an easy win in the race for the City Council seat left open by Chaim Deutsch, who resigned earlier this year when he was convicted of tax fraud.
The GOP also has a chance to pick up two more seats. In northeast Queens, Vickie Paladino holds a lead over Tony Avella, a surprising outcome given Avella’s name recognition as a former councilman and state senator representing the district. Paladino has never held elected office.
There are still absentee ballots being counted, but Paladino currently holds 49 percent of the vote to Avella’s 42 percent. Avella will need to make up over 1,600 votes to regain his former seat.
In another south Brooklyn district, Justin Brannan is trailing Republican challenger Brian Fox, although Brannan is confident that the absentee ballots will swing the race in his favor, posting on Twitter on Monday night that of the ballots returned, nearly 1,400 were from Democrats or registered Working Families Party voters to just 280 Republican ballots.
While the increase in Republican seats won’t necessarily result in major legislative changes – Democrats still far outnumber Republicans in the City Council – it could have an impact on who becomes the next speaker of the legislative body.
City Council members vote for speaker in a secretive process, but it’s a not-so-well-kept secret that it’s really the Democratic Party leaders in each borough who engage in intense political horse-trading to decide how their members will vote.
If a party leader thinks they have enough votes to get one of their own elected, which usually means striking a deal with a party leader from another borough to ensure one they have enough votes, they will go for it.
But if they think they will fall short, often they will strike a deal with the party leader from the borough with the frontrunner and deliver them the necessary votes to win.
Why would they do that, you might ask?
In exchange for the votes, the party leader makes sure their City Council members get appointed by the new speaker as the chairs of powerful committees, like Land Use and Finance, to ensure the borough has a strong voice in the decision-making process on important matter before the council.
In the past, Republicans were generally excluded from this backroom wrangling because the slim number of votes they held didn’t really factor in to the overall tally.
But with a total of 51 seats, if the GOP were able to hold six votes, candidates looking to fill the spot left by Corey Johnson would have to at least make some overtures to the Republicans.
Factor in that it’s not inconceivable that conservative Democrats like Councilman Kalman Yeger of Borough Park and Councilman Robert Holden of Middle Village – who while a registered Democrat actually won his seat running on the Republican line – could be persuaded to join the Republican bloc to influence the race, the GOP could conceivably have eight votes on their side.
In addition, the two major players in every speaker’s race are the Brooklyn and Queens Democratic parties, simply because those borough’s have the most City Council members, and therefore the most votes to package.
Given that those boroughs are the two that stand to lose seats to the GOP, that diminishes the influence those party leaders and their council members have in deciding the next speaker.
The current frontrunners for speaker include Councilman Francisco Moya of Queens, Keith Power from the Upper East Side and Carlina Rivera from the East Village.
Brannan was also considered a strong candidate, but the difficulties he is having just getting reelected is sure to hurt his candidacy. It’s doubtful that many will get behind him even if he does pull out a win.
So while the Republicans might not gain much in the way of legislative power even with their wins, they will likely play at least some role in shaping the leadership of the City Council, and hence the direction it will take over the next few years as a new mayor comes into office.

Queens Tech Council hosts first networking event

A forecast for thunderstorms didn’t stop members of the tech community from attending the first networking event hosted by the Queens Chamber of Commerce’s new Queens Tech Council.
“I’ve built an amazing network for myself just by being at these events,” said Mo Faisal, founder and CEO of The Money Hub and FinGem and co-founder of Impact Hub New York Metropolitan Area, who attended the event at ICONYC Brewing in Long Island City. “Every small business owner, entrepreneur or anyone who prospectively wants to build something or be a leader has to go out there and talk to people.”
The Queens Tech Council launched in February with the goal of promoting the tech industry in the borough. Council members include representatives from Google, Facebook, Amazon, Pursuit, LIC Partnership, Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, Crown Castle, Cornell Tech, and The Business Incubator Association of New York State.
The council will focus on ensuring Queens is producing the talent companies look for, getting the resources and capital tech companies need, and helping businesses in traditional industries successfully integrate new technologies
“We work with local colleges and businesses who have educational opportunities, whether it’s apprenticeships, upscaling opportunities for the current workforce or anything that can bring more skilled workers into the tech industry,” said Michelle Watson, a technical specialist at the NYC Small Business Resource Network and Queens Tech Council member.
The Queens Tech Council has two working groups. The policy and government group works to highlight the tech industry’s needs to elected officials, while the investment and industry group works to secure both public and private funding.
Chamber president and CEO Tom Grech discussed some of the local tech industry’s recent accomplishments, including the rapid mass production of ventilators during the height of COVID-19 by Boyce Technologies in Long Island City. Borough President Donovan Richards highlighted the role the tech community will play in the future of the borough and, ultimately, the city.
“We want Queens to be the template for where we need to go, but we can only do that with you,” he told the crowd. “That means networking, relationships, and making sure we’re all rowing in the same direction.”
Rachel Loeb, president and CEO at New York City Economic Development Corporation, was the keynote speaker at Tuesday’s event. She said EDC and NYC Small Business Resource Network collaborated to ensure the survival and success of local small businesses during unprecedented times.
“We’ve been working together as a partnership so that we could get crucial skills when COVID hit and resources to small businesses so that they can survive, whether it be digitizing their business or just staying open,” she said.
Just last week, Loeb attended a groundbreaking ceremony for Bartlett Dairy’s new headquarters in Queens. Additionally, Hyatt Regency JFK recently celebrated its grand opening at Resorts World New York City, and JetBlue announced that its headquarters will remain in Long Island City.

Queens Tech Council hosts first networking event

A forecast for thunderstorms didn’t stop members of the tech community from attending the first networking event hosted by the Queens Chamber of Commerce’s new Queens Tech Council.
“I’ve built an amazing network for myself just by being at these events,” said Mo Faisal, founder and CEO of The Money Hub and FinGem and co-founder of Impact Hub New York Metropolitan Area, who attended the event at ICONYC Brewing in Long Island City. “Every small business owner, entrepreneur or anyone who prospectively wants to build something or be a leader has to go out there and talk to people.”
The Queens Tech Council launched in February with the goal of promoting the tech industry in the borough. Council members include representatives from Google, Facebook, Amazon, Pursuit, LIC Partnership, Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, Crown Castle, Cornell Tech, and The Business Incubator Association of New York State.
The council will focus on ensuring Queens is producing the talent companies look for, getting the resources and capital tech companies need, and helping businesses in traditional industries successfully integrate new technologies
“We work with local colleges and businesses who have educational opportunities, whether it’s apprenticeships, upscaling opportunities for the current workforce or anything that can bring more skilled workers into the tech industry,” said Michelle Watson, a technical specialist at the NYC Small Business Resource Network and Queens Tech Council member.
The Queens Tech Council has two working groups. The policy and government group works to highlight the tech industry’s needs to elected officials, while the investment and industry group works to secure both public and private funding.
Chamber president and CEO Tom Grech discussed some of the local tech industry’s recent accomplishments, including the rapid mass production of ventilators during the height of COVID-19 by Boyce Technologies in Long Island City. Borough President Donovan Richards highlighted the role the tech community will play in the future of the borough and, ultimately, the city.
“We want Queens to be the template for where we need to go, but we can only do that with you,” he told the crowd. “That means networking, relationships, and making sure we’re all rowing in the same direction.”
Rachel Loeb, president and CEO at New York City Economic Development Corporation, was the keynote speaker at Tuesday’s event. She said EDC and NYC Small Business Resource Network collaborated to ensure the survival and success of local small businesses during unprecedented times.
“We’ve been working together as a partnership so that we could get crucial skills when COVID hit and resources to small businesses so that they can survive, whether it be digitizing their business or just staying open,” she said.
Just last week, Loeb attended a groundbreaking ceremony for Bartlett Dairy’s new headquarters in Queens. Additionally, Hyatt Regency JFK recently celebrated its grand opening at Resorts World New York City, and JetBlue announced that its headquarters will remain in Long Island City.

Women have chance at majority on Council

For the first time in the history of the City Council, women have the opportunity to hold a majority of the seats.
If all of the June primary winners are victorious in the general election this November, 30 women will hold 51 of the seats in the legislative body.
Last week, some of those winners and their colleagues in government rallied outside City Hall with members of “21 in ’21,” a grassroots advocacy group founded in 2017 with the goal of getting more women elected to the City Council.
If the results stand, the group surpassed its goal by nine seats.
“It is incredible to see this idea finally turn into a reality that has led to a historic moment,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “When women run and have the support around them, women win.”
There are few competitive races later this year, so it is likely most, if not all, of the primary winners will join the City Council on January 1.
Nantasha Williams, Shahana Hanif, and Mercedes Narcisse would claim seats never held by a woman in Jamaica, Cobble Hill and Bedford-Stuyvesant.
The LGBTQ+ Caucus would be bolstered if the primary results hold. Crystal Hudson and Kristin Richardson Jordan would be the first openly gay Black women to serve in the City Council. Tiffany Cabán would be Astoria’s first openly gay representative.
Sandra Ung, a Chinese American from Flushing, won the primary for the seat being vacated by Peter Koo.
And Linda Lee and Julie Won will be the first two Korean-American women in the City Council, while Felicia Singh and Shahana Hanif would be the first two South Asian members.
“Over half of my district’s residents are foreign-born, but I am set to become the first immigrant and the first woman to represent these neighborhoods,” said Won. “As trailblazing elected officials have done before me, I will partner with the rest of the incoming City Council cohort to create a professional pipeline for progressive Asian, Black, and Brown activists to ascend to the highest levels of government and elected office.”
Hanif would also hold the distinction as the first ever Muslim council member.
“I’m excited to forge a model of leadership in coalition with all the women that is deeply committed to enabling and expanding a multiracial, participatory democracy,” said Hanif. “It is past time for the women of our city to be front and center.”
Singh arguably has the strongest challenger in the general election in Queens Republican Party chair Joann Ariola. However, if Singh were to lose, the seat would still go to a woman.
Additionally, the City Council will now have 11 mothers.
In 2017, former speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and former council member Elizabeth Crowley co-founded 21 in ’21. At the time, women held only 11 seats in City Council despite accounting for 52 percent of the city’s population.
They’ve expanded their coalition over time by partnering with 17 different organizations, including Emily’s List and She Will Rise.
“I am enormously proud to have taken the baton and gotten the organization across the finish line,” said Amelia Adams, president of Adams Advisors, a firm focused on government affairs, community relations and political consulting. “With the help of our membership, mentors and candidates, we created a sisterhood that is going to continue in the body of the City Council and beyond.”
Some advocates believe the increase in female representation was a direct result of ranked choice voting, which was used city elections on a large-scale basis for the first time in the June primaries.
“For the first time ever, New York City’s government will actually reflect the diversity of our city, thanks to ranked choice voting,” said Rosemonde Pierre-Louis, COO at NYU’s McSilver Institute. “Ranked choice voting results in more wins for candidates of color and women, and the proof is in the results.”

Women have chance at majority on Council

For the first time in the history of the City Council, women have the opportunity to hold a majority of the seats.
If all of the June primary winners are victorious in the general election this November, 30 women will hold 51 of the seats in the legislative body.
Last week, some of those winners and their colleagues in government rallied outside City Hall with members of “21 in ’21,” a grassroots advocacy group founded in 2017 with the goal of getting more women elected to the City Council.
If the results stand, the group surpassed its goal by nine seats.
“It is incredible to see this idea finally turn into a reality that has led to a historic moment,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “When women run and have the support around them, women win.”
There are few competitive races later this year, so it is likely most, if not all, of the primary winners will join the City Council on January 1.
Nantasha Williams, Shahana Hanif, and Mercedes Narcisse would claim seats never held by a woman in Jamaica, Cobble Hill and Bedford-Stuyvesant.
The LGBTQ+ Caucus would be bolstered if the primary results hold. Crystal Hudson and Kristin Richardson Jordan would be the first openly gay Black women to serve in the City Council. Tiffany Cabán would be Astoria’s first openly gay representative.
Sandra Ung, a Chinese American from Flushing, won the primary for the seat being vacated by Peter Koo.
And Linda Lee and Julie Won will be the first two Korean-American women in the City Council, while Felicia Singh and Shahana Hanif would be the first two South Asian members.
“Over half of my district’s residents are foreign-born, but I am set to become the first immigrant and the first woman to represent these neighborhoods,” said Won. “As trailblazing elected officials have done before me, I will partner with the rest of the incoming City Council cohort to create a professional pipeline for progressive Asian, Black, and Brown activists to ascend to the highest levels of government and elected office.”
Hanif would also hold the distinction as the first ever Muslim council member.
“I’m excited to forge a model of leadership in coalition with all the women that is deeply committed to enabling and expanding a multiracial, participatory democracy,” said Hanif. “It is past time for the women of our city to be front and center.”
Singh arguably has the strongest challenger in the general election in Queens Republican Party chair Joann Ariola. However, if Singh were to lose, the seat would still go to a woman.
Additionally, the City Council will now have 11 mothers.
In 2017, former speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and former council member Elizabeth Crowley co-founded 21 in ’21. At the time, women held only 11 seats in City Council despite accounting for 52 percent of the city’s population.
They’ve expanded their coalition over time by partnering with 17 different organizations, including Emily’s List and She Will Rise.
“I am enormously proud to have taken the baton and gotten the organization across the finish line,” said Amelia Adams, president of Adams Advisors, a firm focused on government affairs, community relations and political consulting. “With the help of our membership, mentors and candidates, we created a sisterhood that is going to continue in the body of the City Council and beyond.”
Some advocates believe the increase in female representation was a direct result of ranked choice voting, which was used city elections on a large-scale basis for the first time in the June primaries.
“For the first time ever, New York City’s government will actually reflect the diversity of our city, thanks to ranked choice voting,” said Rosemonde Pierre-Louis, COO at NYU’s McSilver Institute. “Ranked choice voting results in more wins for candidates of color and women, and the proof is in the results.”

Ingrid Gomez challenging incumbent for council seat

Although she may be soft spoken, it doesn’t take long to realize that Ingrid Gomez has a bold vision and concrete plan to improve the neighborhoods of Corona, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, and Lefrak City.
With the Democratic Primary just around the corner, the first-time candidate is looking to unseat incumbent Francisco Moya and bring her own fresh perspective to City Hall.
Ingrid Gomez was born in Colombia and moved to the U.S. with her family when she was seven. After growing up and going to school in the Bronx, Gomez moved to Corona where she has lived ever since.
She is also a social worker at a pre-K center in the district she hopes to one day represent.
“We have a very needy population,” Gomez explained of District 21. “There are a lot of social and emotional needs that children have. As a social worker, I am helping people with their everyday problems.”
The district is one of the most diverse in the city, with a 60 percent foreign-born population that includes large Latino, Asian, and Black communities. Gomez believes that her experience as a social worker gives her insight into the area’s equally diverse issues and needs.
“I saw the conditions of our neighborhood as a social worker that lives in our community,” she said, “be it high rents, access to healthcare, or transportation issues like when the Q23 takes forever. I am living those issues too.”
In addition to social work, Gomez serves as the chair of the Youth Services Committee for Community Board 4, as a board member of the Elmhurst Hospital Community Advisory Board, and as a founding member and organizer for the Corona Mutual Aid Network, an organization that bought groceries and essential items for the sick and homebound during the pandemic.
Despite her long-standing commitment to community service, Gomez did not consider running for office until she was inspired by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s 2018 win against incumbent Joe Crowley.
“It really helped me to see that I could also run against an incumbent,” Gomez explained, “that I could throw my hat in the ring and do this.”
Gomez volunteered for Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign and later for Tiffany Cabán’s bid for district attorney. She launched her own City Council campaign in 2019, with the help of some veterans fromthos two previous campaigns.
Gomez has been reaching out to voters for over a year.
“People don’t really understand how absent Moya has been in the district,” Gomez said of her challenger.
She specifically criticized Moya for lackluster garbage pickup and for keeping his office closed since the beginning of the pandemic.
“I was on the ground and Moya was nowhere to be seen,” Gomez continued. “I saw the neglect in the neighborhood.”
Gomez labels herself a progressive, but is quick to highlight concrete plans for achieving her goals.
“When someone asks what progressive means to me, I saythree things, housing is a human right, everyone deserves healthcare, and everyone deserves a dignified living wage,” she said. “I think progressives need to be more specific on how we get there.”
In terms of housing, Gomez advocates for the use of hyper-local area median income numbers rather than numbers that include upstate counties to price affordable housing units.
Additionally, she hopes to abolish the Major Capital Improvement program, which is often abused by landlords and disproportionately impacts low-income New Yorkers.
Additionally, Gomez has her sights set on bringing new youth centers and hospitals to her district. She is particularly eyeing a large plot of land in Willets Point that would be ideal for a new medical facility.
Ironically, it is the same plot where Moya hopes to build a soccer stadium.
“After seeing the pandemic at Elmhurst, I would love to bring another hospital to Corona,” said Gomez. “Willets Points is a prime piece of real estate for that.”
Gomez also believes that her social work experience will add meaningful insight into the citywide discussion about police reform.
“There are certain situations where someone with mental health experience and de-escalation skills are needed,” Gomez explained. “I don’t think the police have that sort of training.”

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