2002-04-20 / Front Page
Meeks Discusses The Wave, Community and His Goals for Rockaway|
By Gary G. Toms
In response to claims from numerous community residents that Congressman Gregory W. Meeks, of the 6th Congressional District, is an absentee Congressman who does nothing for the community, The Wave requested an interview to discuss the matter. The following week, the Congressman made arrangements to sit down with us for a candid one-on-one interview to defend his record and his name.
The Wave: Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to meet with us Congressman.
Meeks: "It was my pleasure."
The Wave: I would like to start by discussing a topic that you may consider extremely sensitive. If you do not want to address it, I will understand.
Meeks: "I'm here to answer any and all questions, so go right ahead."
The Wave: You have not had a good, long-standing relationship with this newspaper, when compared to other elected officials who represent Rockaway districts.
Meeks: "That is true."
The Wave: Sources say that this bad blood developed 12 years ago, when Howard Schwach, who is now the Managing Editor of The Wave, claimed in his "Short Takes" column that a member of the Meeks family was responsible for shooting a police officer in the back. The article claimed that you used your power and influence, as the newly elected Assemblyman, to try and get the charges dropped. Congressman, with an opportunity to set the record straight, what would you like to say regarding this allegation?
Meeks: (Smiling) "Well, first let me say this. The claims that were made in that column were totally false. The alleged family member that the piece was written about, my nephew, does not even live in New York. But here's the thing. He's my only nephew, and at the time of the incident he was only eight years old! So, I don't know whom he was writing about. Secondly, when this whole thing came out, no one, not one person from The Wave ever contacted me to get my side of the story. The article was written without anyone approaching me. It was a very poor job of reporting. He had no facts. He just went on speculation, which is not the role of a true journalist. I made attempts to communicate with them, but it seemed more important to them to keep running the story. After a while, I just stopped making attempts to communicate with them because I basically felt like what's the point?"
The Wave: People have taken you to task for taking out holiday greeting ads in mainland publications and not The Wave, which covers your district. I suspect this feud is the reason why you haven't bothered doing seasonal or holiday greetings in The Wave, right?
Meeks: "Absolutely. Why would I advertise holiday or seasonal greetings in a paper that wrote nasty things about me week after week? Why should I support them and give them my money? Does that make sense to you? I'm not a fool, now."
The Wave: Some community members have labeled you a "do nothing" Congressman. What is your response to that?
Meeks: "I think that is unfortunate because we are doing some very substantive things for the community that is not being reported. That's one reason why I opted to meet with you, so that we can start getting the information out there to the community. I've already started by submitting my column on Social Security. I will make sure that my office and staff submits more in the way of press releases and information. We have to do a better job of that in comparison to years passed."
The Wave: Why haven't you been more visible to the community, aside from tragic events taking place? (For example, the murder of high school football superstar Thomas Johnson.)
Meeks: "There are three reasons why I have not been in Rockaway as often as I would like. One, it is just physically impossible for me to do it because of my grueling schedule in Washington. Two, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays I am tackling issues in Washington. That leaves me two days to get caught up on issues affecting my district, which is not a whole lot of time. In the midst of all this, there are public appearances and meetings that I have to make. We have been trying to offset the problem by meeting people by request, even on Saturdays and Sundays. It's just really hard. Finally, I realize that my job is to negotiate to make sure we can do things for the peninsula. The only way I can do that, effectively, is by being in Washington a majority of the time."
The Wave: "What are your major concerns about the eastern portion of Rockaway?
Meeks: "First and foremost, economic development. We are in the process of creating commercial activities and businesses to stimulate the Rockaway economy. Also, there is the issue of absentee landlords to deal with. Too many properties are not being managed properly, and this is hurting the community. The buildings could be put to better use, and businesses could be created within them. The Far Rockaway Shopping Mall is a perfect example, and we have to start holding the landlords accountable. We also have to make sure that we strengthen community-based organizations so that there is a vehicle in place to receive funding that I have obtained or may be awarded. Transportation and education are also high on my list."
The Wave: The Wave has received hundreds of letters over the years regarding the lack of funding for sports related programs in the community. They also say that your office has been less than forthcoming with information and financial assistance. What is your response to these claims, and is funding available to help them?
Meeks: "People must understand that funding comes from discretionary funds, which is dealt with at the local level, not the state. The City Council is responsible for dispensing those monies. It doesn't work this way in the Congress. The process is completely different. I am only responsible for large scale funding that goes before the Appropriation's Committee. Smaller funding, like sports programs, is dealt with on a local level."
The Wave: You were not looked upon favorably by members of the community in the wake of the allegations of misconduct by the Queens Narcotics Unit. The Far Rockaway Chapter of the NAACP has been involved to the point where they will be meeting with Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly in the coming weeks. Can you state the reason for your lack of commentary and/or appearances during what many consider to be a crucial period in Far Rockaway?
Meeks: "One, I did not want to interfere with the NAACP action. My presence would have made it appear political, and the NAACP made it very clear that politicians were not going to play a crucial role in this movement, at least in the early stages. They did not want politicians involved after The Wave story broke. It was a people's movement, and I respected that."
The Wave: With a $6 million cut slated for District 27, what can you do, if anything, at the state level to help your constituents?
Meeks: "I have to say that even at the state level there are cuts that affect the funding as well. We've been looking at ways to release and obtain money to help education. We've even asked to have a sit down with the Mayor to try and work on the problems together. Hopefully, he will consider. I've pulled in a PhD, in the field of education, to come up with a comprehensive plan for education. Moreover, I am working with District 27 officials and corporate entities to obtain private funding for the schools and various programs."
The Wave: What is your view of the Arverne-By-The-Sea project?
Meeks: "It has tremendous potential if done properly. I will monitor it closely. It must not favor a particular community, and we want to make sure that jobs will be available for those in and around the community."
The Wave: Recent elections, coupled with 9/11 sentiments and "The Giuliani Factor", have placed a number of Republicans in office. This has given way to the thought that the Democratic Party is dead. How do you respond to that?
Meeks: "It's no secret that the Dems that have run recently have done damage to the party. However, this does not mean that the party is dead. I think we can work together to re-energize the party, and I'm confident that we will."
The Wave: Is there anything you would like to say in closing?
Meeks: "Yes. I want to stress that all of us who are elected, whether it's James, Malcolm or me, must now work as a team. I did not support James in the race for City Council, but I intend to fully support him now. I have no doubt that the union between the three of us will make the community much stronger."
The Wave: Thank you Congressman. I'm glad we did this. It was a long time in coming.
Meeks: "I thank you, sir."