Prentzas promotes education overhaul in city

Gus Prentzas is one of three Democrats vying for the vacant Astoria City Council seat. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Gus Prentzas hopes to use his experience from the now-defunct school board to push for dramatic changes to the city’s education system if he is elected to succeed City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria).

The small business owner is running in a Democratic primary against Costa Constantinides and John Ciafone to represent the district, which encompasses the neighborhood of Astoria.

“What makes me different from them is my 25 years of community service,” he said. “The people have seen me out there.”

Prentzas was elected in 1991 to Astoria’s school board and served as its vice president for seven years before Mayor Michael Bloomberg took over control of the schools.

He wants to pressure the state Legislature to abolish mayoral control after the policy sunsets in 2015 and believes that parents should have more say in what goes on in the neighborhood schools. For example, he wants each borough to have five school boards that determine policy instead of directives emanating from a central authority.

The decade-long Community Board 1 member said the city should focus on improving public schools instead of allocating funds to charter schools.

“This administration has been running the Department of Education as if it’s a corporation,” he said. “But what corporation do you know that is defunct, that is not making profit, that you keep funding?”

Prentzas, who has served as a Democratic state committeeman since 1998, was born in Greece and sees his main base as the Greek community, but he has reached out to all areas of the district.

“In Astoria Houses, the amount of support and the outpouring of involvement has really touched me,” he said.

Prentzas said he has spent time responding to needs in the public housing project and has helped to smooth over the relationship between residents and the police.

On public safety, he would like to see the return of more neighborhood beat cops who become familiar faces and get to know business owners.

“Now instead of communicating with the people, with the business owners and residents, they are isolated,” he said. “That is one of the problems as well..”

He would also like to fund more police officers and said cuts to other areas of government would be a way to pay for it.

On stop-and-frisk, Prentzas said he supports the policy in theory, but accused the NYPD of having a quota system and sliding into racial profiling, which is why he is against the policy as it has been carried out.

Regardless, he would not have voted for the Community Safety Act, which will install an inspector general to oversee departmental policy and create a law making it easier to sue the NYPD over accusations of racial profiling.

He also chided the city for not intervening in several of the hospital closures around Queens.

Prentzas believes city government should absorb some of the medical facilities into its already struggling network in order to keep services open for residents, although he said impending federal regulations will make it even harder for health care outlets to survive.

Compounding the health care problem in the district is the presence of several power plants. Prentzas said he would fight against any additional facilities to be sited there and would like to build an access point to Rikers Island from another borough to stem the constant traffic flow back and forth between Queens, he said.

Even though Prentzas said he has the ideas and experience to lead the community, he is always open to new ideas.

“Give me another option. If it makes sense, I’ll change,” he said. “That’s what government should be about — not fearing change.”

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Posted 12:00 am, September 2, 2013
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