‘Tish’ Dishes Action at Town Hall

Letitia ‘Tish’ James

Title: ‘Tish’ Dishes Action At Town Hall

On, Tuesday, June 17th, Public Advocate Letitia ‘Tish’ James had a town hall with the leadership of Southeast Queens to hear its current concerns and to update the group on current initiatives from her office. The Advocate came with a check list of items her office was addressing which included increasing the budget of the office, addressing issues of housing and inequities, dealing with area flooding and initiatives related to education. The Public Advocates office had suffered from deep budget cuts by previous leadership to the point that it became an amount lower than the budge of all the Borough Presidents.  As a citywide office, Advocate James does not believe that allows the office to provide the services individuals require. “How do I do what is constitutionally mandated,” she asked. The Advocate’s office is proposing universal free lunch for students.  The hope is to rid the stigma of poverty in the schools.  The program would be reimbursed by the Federal Government but needs approval by the Mayor who has some concerns surrounding a possible shifting of funds from the “haves to the have nots,” she said. The Advocate wants to work with the Department of Environmental Protection to install storm sewers and catch basins in Southeast Queens to elevate area flooding.  Taking that plan a step further, The Advocate would like to have young men from the area trained for that installation work.  She believes this will not only address issues of economic development but be a tool to assist those who are chronically unemployed, have difficulty finding employment or are reentering the job market from the justice system. The Advocate spoke to her initiative to track individuals transitioning out of Foster Care.  There were many stories that the services these individuals should be provided under the law are not made available to them.  As a result, many foster care individuals are moving into the justice system and homelessness. On other issues, the Advocate’s office is working to ensure the banks are accountable for maintaining homes as the effects of the foreclosure crisis continues.  They will also be looking at the homeless population and shelter living.  The slight increase in crime is being looked into as well as connecting to violence interrupter programs and those which help stop gang violence.  The rising cost of  water bills and taxes were also on the list. After presenting the update from the office, Ms. James deftly moderated the question and answer segment, giving clear succinct responses and quickly laying out plans for solutions whether that meant lining up agencies for responses or drafting a letter.  She was also decisive when it came to the most heated issue of the meeting, the new five story apartment building on Farmers Boulevard. The opposing sides on the issue of a five story apartment housing structure on Farmers Boulevard were in attendance at the meeting.  “It was proposed by good people, but a bad idea,” said former Councilman Archie Spigner who opposes the project.   Pastor Davis, who supports the project, responded with a litany of things the “good people” of the neighborhood participated in developing, including the Pathmark Shopping Center.  Just when it seemed the subject was closed, the banter between the two sides would begin anew.  Those present began getting agitated and the Public Advocate ended the exchange. Initially the Advocate promised to review the project and issue a letter of support based on that review. The Advocate rescinded when learning of the need for area affordable housing. “We need affordable housing…we may have to build vertically,” she said.  Advocate James instead asked those present to have their voice heard at the upcoming hearing, for whichever side they supported. Other responses to concerns from the Advocate included scheduling a meeting with city agencies including the DEP, MTA and the Dept. of Sanitation to address the issues of flooding, homelessness and garbage in the area.  Those present were asked to provide locations of garbage dumping and illegal clothing bins. She provided an update on the co-location lawsuit which was dismissed by the courts.  The parties that filed the suit are considering their options.   The Advocate is not against co-location, but wants it done with fairness and equity. On further issues, Advocate James believed the Mayor would resolve the DC37 union negotiations in the same manner the Teachers union contract was resolved.  That York College might be a good resource for intellectually stimulating continuing education courses for seniors.     The Advocate’s office will not look to fully eliminate Stop and Frisk but ensure it is done consistently, following the law and constitution. The Public Advocate act as the Vice Mayor and takes over the Mayor’s duties should it be required.  The Office oversees agencies, the city’s pension fund and the City Council.§ Top Photo: Letitia ‘Tish’ James (k.clements)

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