When Mayor Bill de Blasio was introduced to a crowd of nearly 150 people in Belle Harbor, he received a lot of cheers—and a few boos. The location was a gymnasium in PS/MS 114, a school where most mayoral votes did not go for him.
Sometimes the mayor faced push back from residents. When he brought up the expansion of Select Bus Service as one solution to transportation woes, a few people yelled out that it didn’t help at all.
“It helps,” he said, amid boos from the audience. “You can dislike it, but I guarantee you it helps.”
The Mayor continued his tour of New York City with the 46th town hall in the Rockaways. On the Mayor’s left was the moderator of the evening—Queens City Council Member Eric Ulrich (R-Belle Harbor, Breezy Point, Broad Channel, Hamilton Beach, Howard Beach, Lindenwood, Neponsit, Ozone Park, Rockaway Beach, Rockaway Park, South Ozone Park, Woodhaven).
Ulrich, a critic of the mayor, considered running against de Blasio in the last mayoral election, but opted to run for a third term for City Council.
“I think there were more than a few people who never thought they’ll live to see this today,” Ulrich said.
The Queens official called the potential mayoral run a rumor and then commended the mayor for some of his proposals, such as creating a ferry system and aiding residents affected by the Superstorm in 2012.
“[Those rumors] is the past. I only care about the future,” Ulrich said.
De Blasio, in turn, praised the city council member despite their disagreements. He viewed their relationship as valuable and an example for politicians in Washington D.C.
After explaining changes in the district, the mayor began to listen to audience members asking a variety of topics. The most popular issue in the room was the recovery from Hurricane Sandy.
The Rockaways suffered grave damage with homes, buildings, and parks all affected and some even destroyed. Many people were without power and relied on outside help for food. Despite federal and local officials spending millions for repairs, residents believe more is needed. Sixty-one percent of Rockaway residents are at risk of severe flooding by 2060, according to a study by the coalition group Waterfront Alliance.
“Let’s be blunt,” de Blasio said. “This problem [of flooding] is going to be with us for decades. We’re not going to be done anytime soon.”
The mayor announced he would visit the Army Corps of Engineers to Washington DC in late January to urge immediate action to protect residents. One audience member, Betty Bratton, the chairperson of Community Board 10, which covers Lindenwood, Howard Beach, Ozone Park, and South Richmond Hill, requested de Blasio push for projects not only at the January meeting, but also in his administration too. One suggestion was adding bulkheads or wall-like structures on city-owned property.
“[Especially] some of the smaller resiliency projects the city could be doing to protect our communities as frequently as today. There were people in Howard Beach and, particularly Hamilton Beach that got their feet wet,” she said.
Other residents shared concerns over public safety, improving the rights of tenants, and expanding resources for the homeless. Jean Belford, a member of Rockaway Women For Progress, asked the mayor for a long-time demand of residents: a trauma center.
Belford explained most hospitals are far from the peninsula, causing delays for immediate care. She referred to Thomas Curly, a 12-year-old who attended PS/MS 114, who was found unconscious after an apartment fire. Despite being rushed from Rockaway Park to St. John’s Episcopal Hospital on the edge of Nassau County, he was pronounced dead.
“We’re putting in lots of money to be resilient. We’re trying to grow economically. As you said before, we are disproportionately first responders and emergency service workers. We deserve to have a trauma center, not just a hospital,” she said.
The mayor acknowledged it was a fair suggestion and would meet with his team on a possible solution.
Throughout the three hours, de Blasio stressed to residents that the city is dedicated to continuing the recovery of the Rockaways, and his administration will ensure it will be done quickly.
“There is a fact. Compared to five years ago, some things are better. That does not for a moment let us off the hook for many of the other things we have to do,” he said.