District 22 Candidate

Catherina Gioino

Campaign website: catforcouncil.com

NYC Campaign Finance Board — funds raised

What Office/District are you running for and why? I’m running for City Council District 22, which covers Astoria, East Elmhurst, parts of Woodside and Rikers Island. I was born and raised here, and I’m so thankful that my parents, who immigrated to the U.S. in the ’90s, chose the city’s best area to settle in, and even more thankful that there are people from all over the world and country who choose to come here to this day. I’m running to represent the true interests of my friends and family and neighbors in the council, promising not only that I will represent them and their concerns and interests to the best of my ability, but I also vow that promise will endure regardless if I am elected or not. I have no political interest outside of helping bring D22 even more into the forefront of New York. I’m running to make sure local communities have their interests and concerns well addressed: not only are we part of the most culturally diverse area in the entire world, but our district alone is the most linguistically diverse one as well. I’m privileged enough to have been born here, to speak English, to have gone to an Ivy League school on a full-ride for both undergraduate and graduate policy school: I grew up translating documents for my non-English speaking family and neighbors, or calling 911 as a 7-year-old when one elder had a heart attack; I know the fear people my age have with regards to the future in terms of employment and environmental degradation; I know my long-established neighbors who worry about a higher cost of living and express concern over an aging population. That’s why I’m running: because I care so much about my hometown and about my neighbors and I truly believe I can help address their concerns and make our district even better than it already is.
How long have you lived or worked in the District and how active are you in the community right now? Born and raised, and I continue to be deeply involved in this community. The longest I’ve gone without stepping foot in the district was for six months when I studied abroad– and I missed it every day. I always have been and still am active in the community. Between going to schools you and your kids have gone to (PS 84, PS 2, PS 122 and St. John’s Prep), I was volunteering to pick up litter on the streets or plant trees on our sidewalks. I was an altar server at St. Francis of Assisi for over 10 years and began serving mass an hour after communion, up until my high school graduation. I created and planted community gardens at all three libraries in our district (the Steinway, Broadway and Astoria libraries) and worked on a rooftop farm at Brooklyn Grange on Northern Blvd when I was a 15-year-old pruner for Green Guerillas. I helped the Federation of Italian American Organizations (FIAO) at the Con Ed soccer fields coach tots to score a goal or facilitate their annual 5K anti-drug abuse race. I helped create the current two-minute idling law outside city schools when I was on a team of seventh graders who worked on a Project Citizen project at PS 122. And whenever you’re walking around Astoria, you’re likely to see my byline in store windows, from when I was a high schooler writing for the Queens Gazette newspaper interviewing local celebrities and community leaders. I helped create the Queens Scene magazine and even created my own column called “Meet Astoria,” speaking to store owners and neighbors about what’s on their mind in the area and what they love about our town. During COVID, I volunteered with mutual aid groups across the city, including Astoria Mutual Aid Network, and generally did chores for my aging neighbors who were worried about leaving their homes. And overall, I’ve always been offering a helping hand to those who don’t speak English in our district or need help navigating through the city’s difficult bureaucratic processes.
What is your current or most recent occupation? I’m currently a freelance reporter, having worked most recently as a breaking news reporter for the New York Daily News for the past three and a half years. There, I spoke to everyday New Yorkers across all five boroughs, covering political events and personal tragedies and talking with them about the issues that most affected them– and where the city fell short. I completed a five-year dual degree program at Columbia University, graduating with a Masters in Public Administration in Urban and Social Policy from Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs in 2020 and a degree in Political Science and English from the university’s Columbia College in 2019. I worked at the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs during the pandemic, helping disseminate valuable health information to our city’s most vulnerable communities; was a production assistant at MSNBC; worked at both NY1 and PBS’s POV; and was even a National Park Ranger at the Statue of Liberty. And in the district, I was a waitress at the Jackson Hole diner for two years starting at age 16; I wrote for the Queens Gazette and Queens Scene; and I tilled the trees that line our district’s streets at Green Guerillas.
What would you advocate for in terms of the future of Riker’s Island? I got the opportunity in school to speak with people from the Lippman Commission about their report on the future of Rikers Island and I wholeheartedly support their Renewable Rikers plan, that proposes turning the island into a green energy production site and likewise a park for enjoyment for our district and city residents. I grew up and still live two blocks away from the island, and I likely am the only candidate in this race to have visited the island multiple times. As a reporter for the Daily News, I would visit inmates detained in the city’s jails, most often at Rikers, where I would be bussed along with other visitors to the island’s various holding facilities and be put through several security protocols that were at times invasive and humiliating– my experience just one of many that prompted the $12.5 million class-action lawsuit against invasive search against visitors of the city’s jails. I experienced firsthand what people visiting their loved ones go through daily, and there are countless reports of the deplorable conditions in the city’s jails. This, doubled by the city’s need for green energy production and more public space, means our district specifically is uniquely positioned to not only lead the city in terms of what we can do with this 400-acre piece of land, but it means we will have the most to benefit from if we immediately turn the island into what our residents need most: green energy that would drive down not only pollution but energy prices and create jobs. I firmly agree with the Commission’s report and will fight tremendously not only to create green energy and fulfill Renewable Rikers, but double down: fight against a proposed gas plant in Astoria; fight to bring millions (if not billions) of dollars of municipal, state, and federal funding to our district that would create green jobs; and actively procure funding and training programs that would give well-paying jobs to residents while allowing city property owners to receive even more incentives to install solar panels and other clean energy initiatives. Likewise, 400 acres of land is a massive amount of space, and I would love to make the island accessible for all New Yorkers, meaning I will install a bike path around the perimeter of the island, close the island to vehicular traffic, and build wellness centers on the island so our residents don’t have to travel far to maintain a healthy lifestyle. And in due time, I also want to fill in the water between LaGuardia Airport and Rikers so we can start becoming an international airport by expanding the airport’s runway– and bring even more foot traffic to our district.
What were your thoughts on the rezoning proposal at 30-02 Newtown Avenue in Astoria? Firstly, an 11-story building will drown out the two- three- and four-story buildings surrounding the location. Only requiring 26 affordable units out of the proposed 104 is a slap in the face to our district residents who are already struggling to make ends meet throughout the last year and last decade as our district saw a spike in cost of living. Our tax dollars go to offering developers cash incentives in an attempt to bring affordable living spaces to our district, which, like the rest of the city, is so desperately experiencing a shortage in the housing stock. I cannot help but question why the Community Board approved the project, which brings with it so few units, let alone affordable ones, and will not truly help out neighbors in need. It’s one thing to require a minimum of affordable housing units (at an incredulously high 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) when the district again has seen an explosion of higher cost of living in the recent decade), but it’s another issue to actively fund these type of projects that likely will serve only a tiny portion of the population and not those who need it most. Simultaneously, I understand the need for increased housing stock in the city and would welcome certain development projects if they gain enough community support and truly bring substantial affordable housing units to our district.
Do you think the rezoning process (ULURP) is working? If not, how would you change it? The ULURP process desperately needs reforming. With the most prominent example being Amazon’s proposed HQ2 (and subsequent political backlash from the community), ULURP– and any attempted skirting of the process– needs to be done away with and reformed with the community truly in mind. For my Master’s capstone policy project, I worked with a team to develop true community-minded land use protocols in Peru and Colombia regarding adverse health effects at the hands of foreign extractive resource companies within vulnerable communities– the policy proposals were later presented to the Peruvian congress this past summer and potentially can become law this year. Although we’re not dealing with the extreme health effects as seen in communities surrounding mines and other extensive drilling and construction, we still are experiencing social health effects when it comes to projects where the community is basically ignored in favor of developers. I agree some zoning rules need to reevaluated, but at the same time, more power needs to be given to the community and not just the community board. As it stands, the community board has only an adversarial role in the process, and even with that, there are over 100,000 people that live in our district– and only 33 people on the community board. Not every district resident’s voice is echoed in the community board, and oftentimes, not every community board member’s voice is echoed by the City Planning Commission’s seven-person board, which is somehow designed to be fair enough to represent the city’s growing 8 million-plus population. I would first elongate the process it takes for a developer to submit paperwork as to why they would want to skirt the current zoning rules in place, and I would extend the period of time that not only the community board has to review the paperwork, but I will propose a law amending ULURP so developers will have to foot the bill to send a letter to every single resident in the district detailing their proposed plan and to send their feedback to the city (the borough president and City Planning Commission), which will then scrutinize the qualms people have about the development and make their process much more transparent as to why they decided to heed the residents’ concerns and approve or disapprove the project. As a friend said during the HQ2 debacle, you live and ULURP.
Do you believe in member deference when it comes to rezoning? Council members should not be able to hide behind their option to defer to other members when they were elected by their constituents to represent the neighborhood’s best interests. I not only vow to never hide behind council member deference, but I vow to fight to remove that option from the City Council. I understand that members were elected to represent their district’s values, but with an elected position comes a need for the greater good in our city. Therefore, I understand the temptation by councilmembers to defer to others as to what land use occurs in their district, but when it comes to broader and more encompassing issues, I quite frankly believe council members act in cowardice so as not to make a choice. Council members are elected to make choices, not to sidestep questions or remain unaccountable to residents. And above all, member deference truly means deference to developers or other moneymakers within the district, and not to the member’s constituents. I will fight to remove deference from the council and I would highly urge other elected officials to question the intentions of the member they would defer to.
Should the city council cut police funding? If so, by how much? Our police are tasked with plenty of responsibilities, so I plan on removing some of those responsibilities by having mental health professionals, crisis experts and other trained responders replace officers in certain situations, which would mean restructuring the police budget to these other services. This would allow officers to maintain a healthy presence in preventing crime while allowing experts in other fields to respond to 911 calls that officers may not necessarily be well equipped to handle. Such examples include sending animal control personnel when people call 911 about our city’s wildlife, or sending mental health experts when calls regarding those with mental health concerns are requested. I agree with the City Council budget that calls for shifting $1 billion from the current police budget to other departments, but I argue it should be much more if my above recommendations are put into effect. I understand there are members of my community who worried about growing crime rates and safety in the community, so I would refrain from calling for the whole budget to be removed, but I do agree that a significant shift must be undertaken to bring actual substantial results to our communities and city. That means shifting the police budget– and with it, responsibilities– to other agencies that are better prepared to handle those responsibilities, leaving the police to solely prevent crime and protect our communities. Among such responsibilities include deputizing citizens to gain some financial incentive for reporting crime: there is a current proposed bill (Intro 2159) that would allow people to gain a portion of the ticket given to motorists who are found in bike lanes. I would not only pass the bill if it is not passed this year but I would also expand it to include all kinds of motorist infractions so people can keep our streets safer. This is similar to the current law on the books for idling, so people like you and me should be financially incentivized to keep our streets safe, shift responsibilities from the police to people who witness the crimes, and let the police handle criminal investigations. I would also maintain transparency with the police department by ensuring the repeal of 50-A and hold officers accountable for aggressive use of force, and I would increase the amount of Neighborhood Coordination Officers (NCOs) in our city. As a dual-citizen with Italy, I understand their use of a bimodal police structure, where armed officers are rarely visible on the street, and instead, police who live in those areas and have an actual stake in the community are speaking to neighbors on the street and promoting a positive unarmed police presence in the city.
Do you think non-citizens (including undocumented immigrants) should be able to vote in New York City elections? As the daughter of immigrants who settled in our district in the 90s, and the neighbor of many immigrants who spent my childhood years translating documents for immigrants who didn’t speak English– yes, absolutely, all non-citizens and undocumented immigrants should be able to vote in municipal elections. Firstly, anyone who lives here deserves a right to vote. It’s not only unjust that people who are ineligible to vote do not have the right, it’s ludicrous they are bound to the same rules that our abysmally low voter turnout sets in place. Immigrants on the whole have far higher voter turnout than native-born individuals, which means we could see a significant uptick in the percentage of the population who vote in our elections. Secondly, if you live here, you’re bound to our rules. Whatever I or the winner of this race votes on, people who are residents in our city must follow those laws, even if they did not have the right to vote on them or the elected official who passed them. Thirdly, non-native populations in our city pay more taxes than native-populations; are more likely to be entrepreneurs and own businesses that create jobs and stimulate the economy, and have lower crime rates than in areas with a larger native-born population. Immigrants are welcome in our community and this need not even be an issue: anyone, regardless of citizenship or documentation status, should be eligible to vote.
How would you select community board members and is the current system working? The current system is not working– one must fill out an application, get it notarized, send it in the mail, wait for the borough president’s approval, and then hope to get interviewed and accepted. How 33 people are tasked to represent our district’s 100,000-plus population is an incomprehensible concept, so I not only vow to amend the current system but expand it to make it more accessible and inclusive, so anyone and everyone who wants to get involved will have as few obstacles as possible in a new streamlined process. Unfortunately, New York has abysmally low voter turnout, and even lower community engagement when compared to the rest of the country. I would create an educational awareness campaign that would inform all residents–again, regardless of immigration or documentation status– of the community board, give them a simple questionnaire to complete online or by prepaid postage for those without internet access, and hold a transparent selection process by the borough president as well as the community itself (by voting, by having local organizations voice their opinions, by ensuring each member is diverse and can represent the many facets of our community). I would expand the number of seats on the board and even create smaller ones to better represent the district (so CB1 should be for one specific portion of the district and neighborhoods like East Elmhurst, Woodside, and even smaller ones like Dutch Kills would have their respective boards for better representation as well.
Are you an advocate for protected bicycle lanes in the district and, if so, where do you think they should go? As my logo should dictate, I am a major proponent of bike lanes in the district and around the city. Not only do I want to create parking-protected and barrier-protected bike lanes across the city, I will push to create a connected bike-lane system throughout the five boroughs and fully advocate for the timely pedestrianization of the outer roadway on the Queensboro Bridge (among other bridges, especially in regards to the Verrazano), and more. I am the only candidate in our district that has proposed capping the Grand Central Parkway overpasses, which would not only cut down on noise and air pollution from congested vehicular traffic, but it would create a connected above-ground park for pedestrians and cyclists to walk through all of Northwest Queens. My campaign’s capstone policy promotes the creation of more public spaces for our residents: Astoria and District 22 at large has among the lowest amount of urban space per capita in the entire city, which as a city, has the lowest amount of green and public per capita in the entire nation. We’re obviously working at a severe disadvantage since we cannot create new land– but we can reuse existing spaces and make them friendlier for the people who live in our district. I propose not only creating parking and barrier protected bike lanes along natural corridors like Ditmars Blvd and 30th Ave, but also turning major streets into open streets and public busways, so people don’t have to suffer from congestion and a lack of parking. With the capped highline idea over Astoria Blvd, drivers will also be able to park their cars on the service road, the innermost lane (of three!) of which will be used as a parking-protected barrier and parking for drivers, who might feel like spaces have been removed for the busway. I am also a strong proponent of creating pedestrian plazas, again meeting at natural corridors like Newtown and 30th Aves., and will always fight to increase our green spaces, composting areas, street furniture (benches, lamps, water fountains, smart trash cans, and communal dumpsters to name a few) as well as increase micromobility transportation alternatives so we as residents can have more options than rely on noise and air polluting personal vehicles. I plan on not only holding the DOT accountable to the city-mandated minimum of 30 miles of bike lanes per year, but I vow to push for more permanent and safer bike and pedestrian infrastructure. This means ensuring Shore Blvd remains a permanently open street and creating plenty more pedestrian spaces along our district’s most trafficked corners, all the while increasing pocket parks by closing streets to vehicular traffic and installing tables and chairs for people to relax and dine out, during and post pandemic.
What is your view on the transportation network in Queens? What would you do to improve it? As mentioned above, our district and city needs to heavily revise its current transportation network and bring with it new modes of transportation while promoting the current network as one that is reliable, safe, and easily accessible. Unfortunately, due to years of disrepair, inadequate funding and lack of upkeep, people look to the MTA’s trains and bus network as more of a cumbersome experience than a quick mode of transportation. Queens itself has a large transit desert anywhere east of 31st St in Astoria. I live a 20-minute walk to the nearest subway station. Otherwise, for the mobility-challenged or those who are in a rush and cannot wait for the bus to arrive every half hour, they’re stuck relying on cars. Our city has failed our residents in this district, which is lucky enough to have a train run through it, let alone other areas of Queens that have no subway stations and are lucky to see a bus every half hour. Since the City Council has some jurisdiction over the streets that the buses operate on, I will fight for increased bus capacity throughout the whole city, with special regards towards our transit deserts. I will demand Albany and the federal government fund the MTA, and look for ways to increase our subway system to these areas as well. And as mentioned above, I would look for ways to create busways on natural corridors so people would be more willing to take the bus if it meant getting to their destination faster than by car or personal for-hire vehicle.