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Rebuild VA hospital: Meeks

U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks says the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will prevent southeast Queens residents from being foreclosed on. Photo by Howard Koplowitz
TimesLedger Newspapers

U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans) described 2012 as a year of promise as he met with reporters in his Jamaica district office Tuesday.

Meeks said one of his top priorities is figuring out how to appropriate funds “so we can build a full-service hospital for the veterans,” referring to the St. Albans VA Hospital.

In the summer, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs stopped its plans to lease part of the 55-acre land to a private developer and renovate the rest of hospital space after years of criticism from community members and former soldiers from across the city.

“The focus of 2012 will be ... to have a full-service hospital,” Meeks said.

But the congressman said he was realistic in terms of how feasible it will be to get the funding.

“I realize that we are in economic difficulties right now.”

Meeks addressed complaints against him registered by the conservative Washington, D.C.-based National Legal Policy Center, which has led to the Office of Congressional Ethics looking into his practices.

He accused the group as trying “to drum up something that is not truth.

“I’ve been open about it from the beginning,” Meeks said, which includes a personal loan from a Richmond Hill developer that the NLPC described as questionable.

Turning to his accomplishment in 2011, Meeks said he tried to protect the so-called Dodd-Frank reforms, which in part created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The southeast Queens congressman said the bureau “didn’t have a head” and was caught up in politics that prevented it from doing its job.

Meeks noted that President Barack Obama appointed Richard Cordray to head the bureau, which the president had to do while Congress was on recess because Republicans were reluctant to confirm Cordray.

The congressman said now that the bureau has a leader, it may not help southeast Queens residents who are already in foreclosure proceedings now, but the body will prevent them from occurring.

“We’re looking forward in 2012 to having this bureau functioning,” said Meeks, whose district has been a poster child for the mortgage crisis with a foreclosure rate that is among the highest in the nation. “We have been the epicenter for foreclosures.”

One of the larger projects Meeks said he is working on is Delta Airlines’ plan to redevelop its terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport to the tune of more than a billion dollars.

“It helps create jobs,” Meeks said of the plan. “We are turning JFK Airport into the gateway of America that it was 60 years ago when it opened.”

Meeks said he wants more direct flights out of JFK to Europe, Africa and Asia and noted that such flights would need the approval of Congress.

On the proposed convention center to be built adjacent to Aqueduct Racetrack, Meeks called the development “a very exciting piece.”

The congressman said Resorts World, the newly constructed racino at the track, “has created a lot of jobs for people” and that a convention center will follow in those footsteps.

“I think the expansion of a convention center ... will create thousands of more jobs. I think it will attract people all around the country to come here. It makes Queens even more relevant in the economy of the city of New York. Queens is a golden place to have it.”

On redistricting, Meeks said he expects his congressional district, which covers southeast Queens and the eastern end of the Rockaways, to stay close to the borders it has now.

The state is slated to redraw political lines later this year.

Based on 2010 census figures, Meeks said 70,000 residents may need to be added to his district. He said the additional people can either cause his district to extend into Nassau County or move further west into more parts of Queens.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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