Gioia offers open mind at business breakfast

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Speaking at a business breakfast in Long Island City last Thursday morning, City Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Woodside) did not claim to have all the answers to the problems facing his constituents in western Queens.

Instead, he came with an open ear and an open invitation to break bread with any local residents and organizations who would not mind hosting their councilman for a discussion of the issues.

“My commitment to you is I want to work with you,” Gioia told about 120 business and civic leaders who gathered for his 8:30 a.m. presentation at the Tennisport Restaurant in Hunter’s Point. “My mind is open and my door is open.”

At 28, the fresh-faced Gioia is among the youngest representatives on the newly elected City Council, about two-thirds of which — including the entire Queens delegation — is made up of freshman councilmen replacing incumbents who were forced out of office by term limits.

Speaking at Thursday’s breakfast, which was sponsored by the Long Island City Business Development Corporation, Gioia presented himself as a consensus builder advocating for the community and fighting against ineffective government.

For the most part, Gioia’s responses sounded a lot like what he told Kenny Greenberg, a local artist who expressed concern that the development of Long Island City would push out the vast community of artists that now thrives there.

“Let’s talk about it,” Gioia said after Greenberg spoke during the question-and-answer session that followed his speech. “Let’s put our heads together and figure this out.”

The eclectic mixture of outfits and occupations reflected in Gioia’s audience was a testament to the changing face of Long Island City, a longstanding home of manufacturers and artists that is now being eyed for major development projects.

Speaking in a room where glass windows provided a clear view of the East River, Gioia stood in the shadows of one of the city’s most ambitious development projects. The first two towers of Queens West, a combination of residential and commercial buildings rising on the southernmost part of the borough’s East River shoreline, climb into the sky only a few blocks north of Tennisport.

Gioia offered his wholehearted support for the development of Long Island City, especially the elimination of quality-of-life crimes like prostitution and panhandling that give people a poor first impression when they cross the Queensboro Bridge.

“I cannot think of another part of the city that is more ready for a renaissance,” Gioia said.

But as he pointed toward the Queensbridge Houses, a vast public housing development that sits directly north of the Queensboro Bridge, he warned against building a “tale of two cities” and stressed the importance of including everybody in the prosperity that comes with development.

Gioia was recently appointed to head the newly created Committee on Oversight and Investigation, where he is assigned “to go across this city and find out where government isn’t working right.”

On that mission he has already gotten a head start.

While visiting PS 151, Gioia was approached by a school employee who asked if he could find a way to fix some leaky classroom trailers that get too flooded to be used when it rains — a problem that has existed since they were installed years ago.

“These are the kinds of things I think that have happened in the city for too long,” said the councilman, whose district extends into Long Island City, Woodside, Sunnyside and Maspeth. “If your businesses worked like this city works, truthfully you’d probably be out of business already.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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