Voting Rights and Flushing Meadow Corona Park

The present proposals made for the renovation of the Flushing Meadow Corona Park (FMCP) by corporations has already produced many press articles and community meetings. Community Boards are starting to take positions against the USTA center’s expansion and community organizations are doing everything they can to protect the park space from the largest corporate land grab in NYC in the last 10 years.

Can we imagine the same proposals — which also include the development of a mall and a new Major League Soccer stadium — being made either at Central Park in Manhattan or at Prospect Park in Brooklyn? Of course not. These projects have been proposed just a year before Mayor Bloomberg finishes his term and at the starting point of the municipal election campaign. FMCP is the largest public space in the borough of Queens, where close to 30% of the population doesn’t have political power due to lack of citizenship status. Who and how are we going to protect the public land? This is a very clear example of how a disenfranchised population can be deprived of basic city services such as recreational space. More than a million New Yorkers pay (income and sale) taxes and yet have no say on the decisions that affect them directly. This is a clear case of the quality of life for a large part of the population being given less weight than the economical benefit of a few. How in our democratic system can we get politicians to represent people who don’t have the power to vote?

Mayor Bloomberg has for years sold New York as “the most diverse city in the world” — proud of its international heritage and supportive of progressive immigration reform proposed in Washington DC. But he has done little to really empower these communities in NYC. Community organizations recognized this undemocratic situation years ago and formed the NY Coalition to Expand Voting Rights (NYCEVR), and have since been working to pass a City Council bill (Intro 410) that would grant the right to vote in municipal elections to all legal residents. The legislation would empower 1.3 million New Yorkers and giving voice to 25% of the population that is right now in the shadows. The current administration has been silent on Intro 410.

The majority of people using FMCP are immigrants who live in the neighborhoods around it (Jackson Heights, Flushing, Corona, Forest Hills, etc.) The few people (from 4 to 10% of the population) who currently vote in city elections are not representative of the community at large.

The FMCP development process has been antidemocratic, with fake town Hall meetings with unclear proposals, divided projects to split the community, counting on un-matched economic resources and using the Queens Chamber of Commerce to lobby the small business community. This technique has already been used before in Long Island City, on the river front facing one of the most beautiful views of Manhattan, where promoters got free public land and tax exemptions to build high- rise condo buildings. Now this part of the borough is becoming more an extension of midtown Manhattan than serving the real need of Queens’ population.

NYCEVR is eager to pass Intro 410 as soon as possible and count already on the support of 23 council members. We need to face the reality, however, that only two council members in Queens have signed on to Intro 410, compared to 7 in Manhattan, 4 in the Bronx, 9 in Brooklyn and 1 in Staten Island. Queens’ political power doesn’t represent its community and everyone in Queens has to take responsibility for this sad state of affairs. We are very close to losing 2/3 of our park space in Flushing because of a small percentage of the population who, along with politicians, don’t want to give voting power to the population at large. The FMCP problem is just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s fight this injustice by making Queens the most democratic borough in the world. Ask your city council member to sign on to Intro 410 and ask them to stand to SAVE FLUSHING MEADOW CORONA PARK.

David Andersson,
Coordinator of the New York Coalition to Expand Voting