Thursday, February 4, 2010

Koslowitz Begins Second Stint on City Council

By Conor Greene

A month into her second tenure serving Forest Hills, Rego Park and parts of Richmond Hill and Elmhurst on the City Council, Karen Koslowitz says she has hit the ground running and is looking forward to tacking key issues that affect her district.

Koslowitz succeeds Melinda Katz in serving the 29th Council District, after defeating a crowded field in the September primaries and cruising to victory in the November general election. This marks the second stint on the City Council for Koslowitz, who previously represented the area before term limits forced her from office. In between, she served as Deputy Borough President under Helen Marshall.

“Things are going very well – the office is up-and-coming, and we’re settling in,” Koslowitz told The Forum this week. She says she has put together an experienced staff comprised of “people who are familiar with the community.” Aside from her full-time office staff, Koslowitz arranged for a lawyer to come to the office on certain nights to answer questions constituents have about tenant-landlord issues, she noted.

Koslowitz was recently named chair of the consumer affairs committee and will also serve on the Council’s education, aging and finance committees, among others. She says these committees will allow her to work on “issues that absolutely affect my community.” For example, she plans on establishing a parent advisory council consisting of the PTA presidents from schools throughout the district. “That way I can hear their concerns and bring their concerns back to City Hall,” she said. “The legislators are kept out of the loop, so I wanted to create my own panel where you actually hear the concerns of the constituents.”

Issues impacting senior citizens are also a priority for Koslowitz, who served on the aging and education committees during her first Council stint. “We have an aging populationin my community from Elmhurst all the way to East Richmond Hill,” she said. “Changes in what is going on with the meals on wheels program, the access-a-ride, what they’re planning on doing is absurd as far as I’m concerned.”

Another ongoing concern is the state of the area’s main shopping districts including Austin Street, Queens Boulevard and Metropolitan Avenue. “I think they’re hurting from the economy just like everybody else,” said Koslowitz, adding that the constant ticket blitzing by traffic agents needs to be addressed. “There are often two or three meter maids on a block. We all have to work together, every department. If a customer gets a ticket, they’re not coming back and will go somewhere else to shop.”

While there are limited options in terms of constructing a municipal parking garage along Austin Street, Koslowitz plans to revisit an idea she came up with a decade ago – allowing shoppers to park in the lot behind Borough Hall on Queens Boulevard and offering shuttle bus service to Austin Street. “Especially on weekends, if someone is eating, watching a movie or shopping and spends a few hours [on Austin Street] that would be an ideal parking place,” she said. “However, at the time [she first proposed it] the city said it was going out of the municipal parking business.”

Another major concern for Koslowitz is the state of healthcare in Queens, where three hospitals containing more than 600 beds have closed in the past two years. “It’s a big problem… with a population of 2.3 million, to lose that many beds, when we could have used more to begin with,” she said. “I’m looking into seeing if we can get smaller [facilities].”

She plans on discussing the future of the former Parkway Hospital property with its owner to see if part of that building could be used for medical purposes. “The facility needs to be used for something. There are two things the area needs that we don’t have: hospital beds and senior housing,” said Koslowitz. “Throughout the district, that needs to be revisited and I intend to do that.”

Koslowitz’s office is located at 118-35 Queens Boulevard, 17th Floor and can be reached at (718) 544-8800.

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