Republican Bay Ridge Council candidate John Quaglione met with the editors of Community News Group on Aug. 25 to discuss his campaign for the party’s nomination for the Ridge Council seat. The lifelong Bay Ridge resident gained political experience early, interning in the U.S. House of Representatives while studying at American University in Washington, D.C., and beginning his career working for state Sen. Marty Golden in 1997, during Golden’s Council campaign for the same seat he’s seeking now. Quaglione ran unsuccessfully for the 43rd district Council seat in 2013, winning the Republican primary but ultimately losing to incumbent Vincent Gentile. This time around, however, he is confident that his political experience and career of public service in the district make him the best candidate to win the seat for the Republicans. Quaglione said he would build more public middle schools and push the Department of Buildings to crack down on illegal home conversions. He also criticized the Department of Sanitation for the garbage-collection issues plaguing the district, and expressed interest in a political future beyond the Council. Quaglione is running against three other candidates in the Republican primary, and promised to back whoever wins the party’s line.
On his qualifications:
Quaglione said his political experience, along with the district’s “rampant” anti-DeBlasio sentiment, make him the best candidate overall in the race, and he also said he believes he is the only Republican who could flip the seat. He said he has campaigned on quality-of-life issues and promised to bring participatory budgeting to the district.
“If I make it through the Republican primary, I see myself as the person that’s able to separate left and right, conservative and liberal, and look at the neighborhood issues. There’s nothing in [my platform] political or big spectrum — it’s all local, quality of life, crime solving, getting rid of graffiti, cleaning up the parks, involving the neighborhood in figuring out how your tax dollars are spent. This is all common sense stuff.”
On the opioid crisis:
Quaglione said he does not support creating safe spaces for heroin users, suggesting that the city and the district should dedicate funds to building more schools and senior housing rather than safe-injection centers. He called on the city to work with non-profits that are dedicated to eradicating drug use in the community.
“It is a level of crisis, as the president said, and we’ve worked with Sen. Golden and with various community groups. The city needs to up their ante and commit to these nonprofit organizations that are out there and doing what needs to be done.”
Quaglione said that the district is not seeing enough construction of new middle schools to keep up with the pace of the construction of new elementary schools and pre-K classrooms. He promised to tackle that issue on day one, but dismissed charter schools, insisting that they are unnecessary in the district and hurt the neighborhood’s public and parochial schools.
“They are finding any location they can to put a school for the pre-K, and that’s the same theory they need to adopt for the elementary and middle schools. But they are building elementary schools at a very rapid rate, so when all these kids get to fifth grade, we’re going to have another problem — they’re not going to have the middle schools that we need. When I win, we’re going to go into the conversation of building middle schools, first and foremost. I’m honestly not a fan of charter schools. I think they work in certain situations, I just don’t think in our district we need them. We have very good public schools. If you throw charter schools into this district, you’re going to kill Catholic education in the district.”
On his political insider status:
Quaglione said he is proud of his career spent in public service and that he believes it makes him the best candidate in the race.
“To become a good elected official you definitely need government experience. I’m proud of my record of 19 years. I think I know the district better than anyone else in the race, Democrat or Republican.”
Quaglione said he opposes the raise that the Council recently gave itself when voting to make the position full-time, in part because he thinks the Council should have deferred the pay hike to the next round of elected officials.
“The fact that they gave themselves a raise, not the next membership — I think that was pure arrogance on their part to vote themselves a raise. And then there’s the ones that opposed the raise but they’re taking it. Making it full-time for that salary is a no-brainer, that’s the least you could do.”
On illegal home conversions:
Quaglione criticized the Department of Buildings for not being tough enough on the landlords who are contributing to the district’s overcrowding. He said he would investigate the department’s current protocol and urge them to be more aggressive with inspections. He also floated the idea of changing building codes to increase the mandatory minimum size of bedrooms to make splitting houses into apartments more difficult. He said that if he wins the Council seat, he would like to serve on the Committee on Housing and Buildings to more directly tackle the issue.
“I want to see exactly where these building inspectors are, how many there are. What is the Buildings Department really doing? You get on these committees, you grill the commissioners, you grill the assistant commissioners, and you get answers, and that’s how you get results, and that’s how you can craft legislation.”
Quaglione insisted that he would not welcome Citi Bike in the district unless there Community Board 10 received both early notice of the locations of the docking stations as well as an assurance that the bikes would not take up parking spots. He suggested the 69th Street Pier and on sidewalks near parks as acceptable spots for docking stations.
“You can’t take parking spots. If you take parking spots there will be a revolution.”
On his political aspirations:
Quaglione said he is focused on his family and his Council run, but would not rule out a future beyond the Ridge seat.
“For me, the Council would be the place where I’m ready to throw myself in and give it my all. So you can continue to have the best of both worlds, serve the people and keep in tune with your family. If I do well in the Council, who knows? I wouldn’t say no — you never say no in politics — but people are saying to me that I should be running for mayor, because they believe that this guy’s so bad, and they like what we’re saying. Obviously I’m not ready for mayor, but if I get a term in the Council and I get re-elected and I do eight years as a Republican Council member, you never know.”
On sanitation issues in Bay Ridge:
Quaglione cited the Department of Sanitation’s new organics collections trucks as the source of many garbage-collection problems plaguing the district, from the city’s sudden refusal to collect trash on four private Ridge streets, to general complaints about bulk pickups. He said he supports the private-street residents who are suing the city and would like to see a restoration of service.
“I think Sanitation should come to their senses and put the smaller trucks back that can go down the route and pick it up. No lawsuit, and just resume the old ways. Again, it comes down to right and wrong. It’s wrong for the guy who lives on the corner to have 25 houses’ worth of garbage in front of his house, but it’s right to have your garbage picked up because you’re a taxpayer.”
At the end of the meeting, Quaglione answered a quick series of questions.
• Favorite restaurant: Gino’s.
• Favorite movie: “Mystic River.”
• Last book you read: “Mookie: Life, Baseball, and the ’86 Mets” by Mookie Wilson.
• Main source for news: City&State, BrooklynDaily, NY1.
• Does global warming exist, and if so, is it caused by humans burning fossil fuels?: “Global warming definitely exists. The cause of it, I think, is part of the fossil fuels, parts with the melting of the glaciers have a lot to do with the rising of the water.”
• Fracking in upstate New York?: “When the study is completed that proves it’s safe, I believe it can happen. Until then, it should be a nonstarter.”
• Should Fort Hamilton Army Base rename the streets within it named after Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson?: “The streets are named after history. Do they symbolize hatred? Have they been there forever? The conversation about what they are and what they mean are two different things. If we continue to broadcast the misgivings of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, all we’re doing is continuing to inflame a society that allows and supports hatred. So I am not sure about those streets, I’m not going to lie to you. I have not really had a decision on it.”