Mayor Bill de Blasio visited Rockaway Friday afternoon, joining the annual beach opening celebration and holding a press conference. During his visit de Blasio announced that any surplus federal funding from the ongoing boardwalk rebuilding will be applied to other Rockaway projects. de Blasio was well-received, with elected officials offering praise and attendees providing applause. Elected officials joining de Blasio included Senators Joe Addabbo and James Sanders, Assembly Members Phil Goldfeder and Michele Titus, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and Council Members Donovan Richards and Eric Ulrich. Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver and EDC President Kyle Kimball also joined de Blasio. Our photo gallery is here.
de Blasio has had a bumpy relationship with many in Rockaway, particularly in the western areas of Belle Harbor and Breezy Point. Those hard feelings were set aside Friday, however, with the combination of the festive summer beach opening and notable progress on boardwalk rebuilding. The audience of several hundred people applauded de Blasio’s boardwalk rebuilding and funding comments, although they sat silently as de Blasio praised FEMA. They responded to Queens Borough President Melinda Katz’s request for “a round of applause for Mayor de Blasio”, prompting a smiling mayor to reply “that just shows the generosity of Queens.”
Council Member Eric Ulrich, a Republican whose district covers the western half of Rockaway, has had many harsh comments about de Blasio in the past but on Friday had only praise for his post-Sandy efforts.
The arrangements for the press conference included an ironically named “free speech zone.” The police and government staff directed anyone appearing at the press conference carrying a sign to that zone, far out of sight or hearing distance of the Mayor. As detailed in our report on that “free speech zone”, a total of four sign holders were kept out of the press conference and shuffled off to a distant pen.
After his own remarks and remarks from the elected officials joining him, Mayor de Blasio took press questions in a rain-abbreviated Q&A. On-topic questions included his own beach-going habits, whether a scheduled 2017 completion of the Rockaway boardwalk is realistic, how use of any excess funding for other Rockaway projects will interact with Army Corps of Engineers projects, the availability of swim instructional programs, the use of concrete rather than wood in the rebuilt boardwalk, the amount of time to rebuild City boardwalks and the concerns about less protection in areas without a rebuilt boardwalk. Off-topic questions covered Governor Cuomo’s efforts at closing the Indian Point nuclear power plant, NYPD Commissioner Bratton’s recent statements on the need for additional police officers for anti-terror efforts and the closing of a specific health clinic in Chelsea.
Although the Mayor answered only media questions during the Q&A, he spoke briefly with several residents as he walked to his car. Although many of the people approaching him just wanted pictures, several raised issues with him. Among them was Charlie, a young Rockaway resident who asked the Mayor to increase the number of cops assigned to Rockaway’s two NYPD precincts and to restore ferry service.