I’m 50 years old and I’ve lived in Broad Channel for basically 50 years. My extended family, my uncle, my grandfather are all from here.
I’ve been with the NYC Fire Department for 29 years, I am a Battalion Chief. Before that I was a police officer for a short period of time.
I grew up here. Went to Beach Channel High School and before that St. Virgilius grade school. I went to Kingsborough Community College. I had the dubious distinction of being the only student to get there by boat.
I live here in Broad Channel with my wife. We’ve been married for 29 years. My oldest daughter is a police officer. My middle daughter is a nurse and my youngest is in occupational therapy. My middle daughter is expecting, so we are about to become grandparents.
What’s your role with the Broad Channel Civic Association?
I am the president of the Broad Channel Civic. The Civic has been around for decades. It’s helped give Broad Channel a voice. As an island community it has helped us get a consensus. A lot of the time we can come with a unified voice. It works for us. It helps us take care of problems with agencies and elected officials. A lot of issues got pushed to the side with Hurricane Sandy. So a big portion of this past year has been dedicated to working on FEMA issues, flood insurance, Build it Back, making the community safe. Our biggest priority has been people who have been out of their homes.
On a Civic level we can now start looking at plans for the future. There’s a lot of potential there and I would like to see Rockaway and Broad Channel keep that going.
How did you get involved?
I first got involved in 1985, when I bought my house. People said you should know what’s going on. So I started to go to meetings.
For many years I served on various committees and then I got involved in more decision making. I saw such good examples around in my family, and in a lot Broad Channel’s families.
I am a big advocate that people should be absolutely allowed to have the floor to speak about their issue. And absolutely should have their passion about what they’re dealing with. But once you lose civility you lose your advantage. I think a tone gets set. And that creates an opportunity.
I have seen agencies change their point of view based on how you approach them. Things start to turn around.
Some of the things we’ve done are impressive, when people have done their homework, organize and really talk in depth about the issue.
What other organizations are you involved with?
I am member of the Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers. We’ve been the lead advocates for the Bay for 15-16 years. We brought a lawsuit against Mike Bloomberg and the City which resulted in $100 million dollars in upgrades to the four waste treatment plants around Jamaica Bay and $16 million in upgrades to the Bay. We worked with the NRDC, who provided pro bono lawyers, and the American Littoral Society.
The Ecowatchers also led the fight to keep JFK from flattening out the wetlands to make more runways.
I think this is a new age where digital communication gives a new capability to communicate, to mobilize, to organize, for small groups.
With Biggert-Waters we were told this was an impossible thing to change. But we started talking to people, got in contact with other organizations, other states and we pushed it till it became a national issue. I think we really did a great job, all together.
One of the key points to being successful, whether it’s Build It Back, the FEMA flood maps or Biggert-Waters, is knowing the details. Complex issues really work against the average person who has to sit down and read through very complicated, convoluted briefings and reports. When RPA rolled out that they wanted to expand JFK, I asked them for all their reports back to 1947. We really dig and find the details and see where the weaknesses are.
How long do you intend to stay involved with the BC Civic Association?
As far as president goes, we have a great staff, a great crew. Any one of them could do it. I think in one shape or another I will be involved in the civic for as long as I am here. This is just that kind of community. It’s big investment. You love where you live.
It doesn’t have to be in the capacity as president. No one person does it. It doesn’t matter who’s at the front of the room.
What do you see as the most important issue facing Rockaway and Broad Channel?
I think the biggest issue is opportunity. There is huge opportunity right now and we need to capitalize on that. We are going to have a new boardwalk, a new beach, new infrastructure.
We need to make sure the city knows what we have here.
I think the strongest thing that Rockaway and Broad Channel have is their natural setting. This is our best economic resource. It’s an idea we have done before and I think we are getting back to. Other places do this, really push it, like in Maine and other places.
People in the 1880’s got that. They stood on ferries, for what, four hours to get here.
We already have a tremendous energy here and with all new people coming in. People are saying ‘I am going to take chance, I am going to put some money in that.’ I don’t think the storm stopped that. If anything, it accelerated it.
What’s the best thing about Broad Channel and Rockaway?
One is the people. The people are absolutely amazing. That was on no better display than after Hurricane Sandy. We always knew it was there, but we never saw it like that.
The second thing is the geography. It is always the same response when people come down and they see Broad Channel and Rockaway, the ocean and the bay. They say “Wow! I can’t believe I am still in New York.”
Put those two things together, the people and the place, and the combination is unbeatable.
The biggest complaint has been the lack of transportation. The ferry is a good idea. The rail line that people are talking about would be good. People who live on Long Island can jump on a train and they’re in Manhattan faster than we are.
In the past we have not gotten our fair share, and our say. Everything that Rockaway got was something that other places did not want. It became a dumping ground. But that’s turning around. That’s changing.
What suggestions would you have for people who are not part of an organization, but want to help?
First I would say come down to the Civic Association, come to a meeting and by all means know you’ll be listened to. You don’t have to be on the Board and you don’t have to be president. Everybody who comes down has an equal voice. We never say “You’ve had your one question. Sit down.”
Pick a project, something you’d like to see changed. That might happen through a block association or other group. We are always looking for people to get involved.
You don’t have to be here 10 years, 20 years or even one year. If you’re willing, we’re ready to support.
Even the best civic association can’t be aware of every issue, so people really do make a difference in that. And making that difference feels great.