Photo by Phil Corso
By Phil Corso

Monday’s 19th City Council District candidates forum in Bayside centered around issues many northeast Queens voters feel passionately about: preservation, conservation and overdevelopment.

Five of the six hopefuls gave their pitches on how to preserve the character of the residential district as well as their commitments to resisting overdevelopment, continuing the landmarking process and keeping cultural and historical institutions.

One candidate, Flushing attorney and Democratic Party-backed Paul Vallone, did not attend the political forum — the third of four — because of the death of retired state Supreme Court Judge Joseph Risi, whom Vallone considered a mentor, his spokesman said.

The winner of the November election will replace Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), who chose not to seek re-election after being indicted on federal corruption charges accusing him of using bribery to help state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) into the mayoral race as a Republican.

On the issue of development, all five were asked if they felt the landlord organization Real Estate Board of New York should have an influence on the district. All four Democrats — including former state Assemblyman John Duane, Flushing activist and urban planning consultant Paul Graziano, former spokesman for the state’s Empire State Development agency Austin Shafran and former Halloran Chief of Staff Chrissy Voskerichian, of Auburndale — adamantly opposed the board as a means of influence.

But Douglaston attorney and GOP-backed Dennis Saffran said there were some REBNY proposals that could benefit communities in Queens and an absolutist approach would be counter-intuitive to the greater goals of neighborhood preservation.

Vallone, who was not there to answer the question, received a total of $113,134 from political action committee Jobs for New York, which is backed by the Real Estate Board of New York.

When asked about the most pressing issues facing the district, which includes Little Neck, Bayside, Douglaston, North Flushing, Whitestone, Auburndale and College Point, Duane said clean air and water needed to be at the top of any Council member’s list. He also said he was in favor of investing in underground power lines to make northeast Queens better prepared for the next major storm.

Graziano said the most pressing issue facing northeast Queens revolved around protecting public open space, and while he agreed that underground power lines would be helpful, he said there were cheaper and more common sense solutions for storm preparation, like trimming street trees, not paving over greenspace and investing in shorelines.

Graziano was also the only candidate to criticize Vallone for not attending the forum.

Saffran, the only Republican in the race, spoke in favor of the downzoning efforts of former Councilman and now Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) to help address what he called a growing concern of northeast Queens homeowners. And though he supported the preservation of borough trees and greenspace, Saffran said the city should be more realistic in realizing some trees in potentially dangerous spots might need to be removed to save lives.

Shafran supported underground power lines as long as the expense was not passed on to rate payers, he said. He also proposed the Council work to mandate backup power generators at city gas stations to prevent chaos at the pump similar to that after Superstorm Sandy.

To curb overdevelopment, Voskerichian said she would tackle the controversial self-certification process, which allows developers to certify their own projects without the city Buildings Department’s oversight.

The candidates will meet in the final forum scheduled before the Sept. 10 Democratic primary Tuesday, Aug. 27, in Bay Terrace.

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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