On February 4, the half-dozen hopefuls that will appear on the ballot on March 24 discussed the local business climate during a forum hosted by the Queens Chamber of Commerce at Antun’s in Queens Village.
Moderated by Spectrum News NY1 anchor Ruschell Boone, candidates fielded questions on topics that ranged from support of the local small businesses to the Amazon deal to their favorite restaurant in the borough.
“The businesses in this city are not looking for a handout, only for a real chance without roadblocks, red tape and barriers to succeed,” said Tom Grech, chamber president and CEO, an organization with nearly 90 percent of its membership representing businesses that have 10 or fewer employees.
“We respectfully implore all of our elected officials citywide and statewide, and all of those seeking elected office to walk a mile in the shoes of our business folks,” he continued.
Many of the candidates spoke of the borough president as a position that acts as a cheerleader for the county, especially when it comes to promoting the growth of local businesses. The Queens borough president receives millions of dollars annually in city capital to be steered toward various community organizations and projects.
For Elizabeth Crowley, a former City Council member, the position of borough president provides an opportunity to procure more funding and resources for Queens, and invest them in business improvement districts (BIDs), cultural institutions and tourism.
“I would be the borough president that protects Queens’ sense of place,” she said. “I think it’s time we have a leader that is going to fight for our fair share, and work with the business community to create more jobs and economic opportunity.”
Dao Yin, a community activist and small business owner currently serving as both secretary-general of The Shanghai Association of America and executive vice president of the Queens Residents and Voters Coalition, advocated for an influx of funds into the city’s budget for workforce training.
He also proposed a 10 percent property tax credit to home offices and small businesses, as well as the construction of an international convention center in Queens, much like Manhattan’s Javits Center.
“You need to give the companies, corporations and startups incentives” he said. “Right now all of your income is being paid to the landlord, and it shouldn’t be that way.”
Throughout the forum, Councilman Donovan Richards stressed the importance of investing in the borough’s infrastructure and zoning, while wrapping those commercial overlays with development projects that provide jobs and benefit the community as a whole.
He pushed for the establishment of a zoning task force, as well as implementing tax incentives for small businesses. Richards also indicated he would collect and analyze data on commercial districts in Queens, as well as strengthen BIDs that are doing the work to bolster businesses in their corridors.
“We are the gateway to the city,” he said, referring to the people that fly into New York City through LaGuardia and JFK airports. “We can use those opportunities to promote what’s happening here.”
Both Richards and his Councilman Costa Constantinides brought up the idea of making the county’s small business services more available to all Queens residents, in particular the immigrant community.
Constantinides said he would institute satellite offices and increase language services to ensure that communities all over Queens are able to utilize the resources provided by the office of the borough president.
For Constantinides, his candidacy is about reimagining and transforming the way residents see the administration.
“I think any elected official should have an open-door policy,” he said. “It’s about how accessible you are to your community, and that’s how we’re able to amplify all of the businesses and cultural institutions of our borough.”
In a similar vein, retired NYPD sergeant Anthony Miranda, who as a small business owner was part of the Brooklyn and Bronx chambers of commerce, focused on initiatives that would ensure that any decisions in the borough incorporate input from parties with high stakes in the venture.
“A lot of people are feeling left out of the conversation, and the borough president’s office is an absolute tool in facing that,” said Miranda. “I’m about changing the process to where you have an actual voice at the table and your opinions can be respected.”
He proposed a council within the Queen’s Borough President’s Office that would give small business owners a say in the changes being made in their neighborhoods.
Former Queens assistant district attorney Jim Quinn agreed on the importance of creating a business council that would give leaders in both small and big business the chance to express their concerns.
He also spoke of fostering a more friendly environment for business owners by revising “smothering” regulations.
A strong concern for Quinn, based on his decades-long career in law enforcement, is the city’s plan to close Rikers Island jails in favor of four borough-based facilities - one of which would be built in Kew Gardens near Borough Hall - and the impact on residential communities.
“That is one of the main things that compelled me to run for Queens borough president,” Quinn revealed. “You can talk about all sorts of incentives to bring business to New York City and Queens, but if you don’t have a safe city, those businesses are going to fail.”
On the topic of Amazon’s decision to pull out of building its new headquarters in Long Island City, the candidates each acknowledged the economic benefits such a large corporation would have on Queens.
When asked what they would do if Amazon put in a bid on their watch, Crowley, Quinn and Yin emphasized their inclinations to make the borough more welcoming, especially given the ripple effects that company’s presence could have on local business.
“As borough president, you don’t just have to put people together,” Yin said, “but you have to also bring businesses together.”
Alternatively, Constantinides, Richards and Miranda marked Amazon’s attempt at building its HQ2 in Queens as a “bad deal” that attempted to bypass conventional procedure, as well as failed to consider the needs of the communities in the county. They criticized city and state officials for not advocating on behalf of their constituents’ interest.
“The job of leadership is to ensure that you are referencing the interests of the people,” said Richards. “At the end of the day, Amazon is still building warehouses and expanding as we speak, but there’s nobody at the table to leverage those opportunities.
“If you’re not at the table, you are on the menu,” he added.