A gym full of angry Queen’s residents greeted Mayor Bill de Blasio with boos Wednesday night at a Town Hall meeting at JHS 190 Russel Sage in Forest Hills. Attendees had plenty of questions and even more complaints. One man was even escorted out when he told de Blasio he was the worst mayor New York City has ever had.
People were upset about several issues, including plans to open a new men’s homeless shelter and a borough-based jail in Kew Gardens, public safety, parking, and accusations of racism in the public school system. The meeting was particularly contentious, and many expressed that they no longer feel safe in their neighborhood. They asked for change and criticized de Blasio’s leadership.
One woman, who grew up in the City, told the mayor she is considering moving to a different city for the first time in her life because she no longer feels safe. “The fact is, Mr. Mayor, people are leaving New York,” she said. She said she opposes the plan to replace Rikers with borough-based jails, one of which will be a 19-story jail in her neighborhood. She also asked the mayor to fix Rikers instead. People were instructed not to make statements before questioning began. She ignored the instructions. “That’s my statement, not my question,” she sternly said.
Others said they were fearful as a result of bail reform and alluded to the increase in crime. Last month, the city’s crime rate increased by 16.9 percent, compared to the same period last year and as of Jan. 1, people arrested for nonviolent offenses in the city no longer have to raise bail money to stay out of jail.
Deanna Condino, a 74-year-old resident, said that some of those who have been released are “violent, very violent.” She is afraid, she said. The crowd encouraged her with applause.
Many at the meeting even expressed fears that the city’s crime rate will return to the levels of the seventies and the nineties. In 1990, there were over 2,200 murders compared to about 300 in 2019. Murder rose in 2019 for the first time in three years.
“How many people lived here 25 years ago? ” de Blasio asked. “If anyone wants to tell me what we have now is any resemblance to what we had then, I’ll have that debate all day.” The crowd muttered, “It is.” Several called out from the crowd, “It’s all coming back,” and “Bullshit,” speaking over the mayor. He did not usually address call outs, but this time he answered. “It is not,” he said. De Blasio retorted that anyone who thinks that does not understand the facts. People shook their heads and squirmed in their chairs.
Plans to construct a homeless shelter to house 200 employed men was also a point of public outcry. “You are warehousing them, and we know it,” one woman said to de Blasio. She said her family has had the same family home for decades. She is concerned about the men coming into the area where she grew up. She proceeded to chant, “No homeless shelter,” at de Blasio. No one joined her, but many nodded in agreement.
“You don’t want a homeless shelter in your neighborhood? I’m not shocked,” de Blasio responded over her chants. “Why are we doing this? Because we think it’s fun? Because we think it’s easy? No! Its because these are working people. They need housing.”
Several people shouted out, “You hate us.”
De Blasio did not seem frazzled by their anger. He attempted to keep order and spent a lot of time urging people to keep their questions on one topic. He had to remind people to let him speak several times and was frequently interrupted. He gestured with his hands as he spoke and looked the questioner in the eye.
The mayor brought along an army of officials, marked by round pins on their shirts, who were prepared to answer questions he could not get to. Attendees were also given white cards to write questions that would be addressed by the mayor’s office at a later time. The mayor’s officials left with a large stack of papers.
Many residents left wondering if they’d ever get answers.