NEW YORK – When the New York City Council passed Mayor Bill de Blasio’s first budget on time late in June, it was also the first budget passed during the tenure of Costas Constantinides, the first Greek- or Cypriot-American ever to serve on the City Council.
He calls it a “balanced and fiscally responsible Budget,” and said “I am distinctly honored to have worked for all of my fellow New Yorkers to bring funding for special programs” and he told The National Herald, “we also made it a priority to support organizations that promote Greek culture.”
Constantinides spoke to TNH about his experience serving his constituents in the proverbial Greatest City in the World.
“I love what I am doing every single day, serving my neighborhood.” The pleasant surprise, he said, is how many people know who he is and their positive responses. “Every time it happens it’s very humbling and I am still getting used to it.”
As for unpleasant surprises, “I wouldn’t call them surprises. I knew there serious issues we would have to deal with, like school overcrowding.” They are still trying to get rid of the classrooms in schoolyard trailers that have gone from temporary to virtually permanent status.
“I knew it doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s still frustrating, that the problems I see solutions for are not solved yet.”
Constantinides is happy with the budget, however. He fought successfully for funding that reflected his campaign’s priorities: clean and safe streets and parks, investing in the city’s students, looking out for its senior citizens, and supporting the community.
Constantinides allocated funding to HANAC Senior centers and to community radio stations in Astoria and to the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York.
“The Byzantine & Modern Greek Studies program at CUNY Queens College also received funding from the Council Member,” he said in a letter to constituents and told TNH “the Center hadn’t been funded in quite some time from the council so I’m glad to have been able to get them some dollars, and we are looking to do more.”
The new budget will send $65,000 to Astoria from a new City Council initiative for clean streets that Constantinides will combine with his discretionary funds to expand the street cleaning activities of the Doe Fund in his district.
The City Council has also provided funding to several summer programs for children and Constantinides allocated almost $1.5 million to schools within the 22nd Council District for technology upgrades.
Borough President Melinda Katz and Constantinides allocated $1.6 million to Astoria Heights Playground and Constantinides directed almost $1 million to Moser Bulova Park for new upgrades.
The well-being of senior citizens is a priority for Constantinides. He allocated over $100,000 to support local senior centers and the city’s budget includes funds to keep all NYCHA Senior Centers open.
As the Chair of the Council Sub-Committee on Libraries, Constantinides allocated funding to improve local library services.
NOT ALL IS PLEASANT
On July 23, the United Community Civic Association held a town hall meeting on the surprise emergency order signed by Mayor de Blasio over the July 4 weekend which turned the Westway Motel at 71-11 Astoria Blvd into a homeless shelter for more than 100 homeless families without prior consultation with resident and local officials.
The 121-room motel was previously used as a temporary emergency overnight shelter.
“This isn’t about the neighborhood versus the families that will be put there,” Constantinides told TNH. “First, they took the neighborhood’s voice out of the process…that made a permanent change in their neighborhood…and, second,” he said, “is this the best location for the families that will live there? There are no parks or schools for the children, there is no subway service…no medical services, there isn’t even a bodega – they can’t even get a carton of milk.”
“My heart goes out to these families and we want to be part of the solution [for combatting homelessness] but the administration cut us out of the conversation with an arbitrary decision.”
He believes a more substantial environmental review was needed, and said he and State Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas and other elected officials are exploring all options.
All in all, his experience has reinforced his wish hear everyone’s concerns and his desire to be the people’s voice.