District 22 Candidate

Leonardo Bullaro

Campaign Website: votebullaro.com

NYC Campaign Finance Board – funds raised.

Why are you running for office? As the son of immigrant parents and a member of a large union family, I learned the importance of studying hard at school,  the dignity of hard work and service to the community. Those values guided my decision to pursue a career in education and public service. My father came to this country in 1959 in pursuit of the American Dream but that same promise of opportunity is out of reach for far too many today. I am running for City Council to help others realize their own version of the American Dream.

The next City Council is going to face unprecedented challenges to rebuild our city. Now more than ever, we need leaders with the ideas and experience to deliver concrete solutions. Building on my prior public service, my community-driven approach will deliver innovative, achievable solutions that reflect the needs of our neighborhoods. As an experienced manager and problem solver, I’m ready to lead to make our District and our city healthier, more prosperous, and more equitable.

How long have you lived or worked in the District and how active are you in the community right now? My family first immigrated to the district in 1959 and I have lived here since 2009. Having worked in the field of education for 15 years, including on citywide innovations for the Department of Education, I have been active in the community for the majority of my professional career. I am a Team Leader of Proud Astorian, which includes a weekly volunteer effort to remove litter from the neighborhood. I am also a member of a local Italian cultural organization and I attend my local parish.
What is your current or most recent occupation? Prior to the pandemic, I was a Director of a small design-build manufacturing firm  located in Long Island City. I paused my career in education to help my sister’s company by using my Finance degree from NYU and business acumen to help turn around and expand her 22 person business. In two years there, we had become a growing small business that was entering new markets but the impacts of the COVID shutdown necessitated downsizing the business and laying off most of the staff, including myself. Since then, I have been a full time candidate, running for the City Council.
What would you advocate for in terms of the future of Riker’s Island? As a proponent of combating climate change and ushering in a clean energy economy, I strongly favor locating renewable energy sources in any development plan. To help generate good-paying “green” jobs, including for those who were incarcerated or affected by jail operations, I also strongly favor locating educational and job training programs adjacent to these energy sources. I strongly supported the passage of the Renewable Rikers legislation to convert the island into a hub of environmental sustainability and moving forward on the closure of older, fossil-fuel “peaker” power plants that has affected our residents with asthma through localized air pollution.
What were your thoughts on the rezoning proposal at 30-02 Newtown Avenue in Astoria? While I did not serve in an official capacity in either the Community Board’s or Borough President’s review process, I did attend both hearings virtually and have been tracking the proposed development. To address the issue of housing affordability, my platform calls for the creation of more housing units on the premise that an increase in housing stock is one factor in ultimately helping to lower rents.

First, I support the concept of a mixed-use complex that includes not only ground floor retail space to enhance goods and services for the community but also space for a community facility. My platform calls for development that serves its community and the inclusion of this facility is in line with that. It is our role as elected to hold developers accountable to a community vision.

Like many, I have concerns about the City’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program but I believe that 26 “affordable” housing units in a 104-unit project is reasonable. This ratio both provides the affordable housing units we seek while also allowing the project to be adequately financed.

Do you think the rezoning process (ULURP) is working? If not, how would you change it? I see a few ways that the ULURP process can be improved. In its current configuration, the Community Board is given a reactive role rather than a more proactive role, where community members are setting the vision and needs of the neighborhood. To improve this I am calling for a Comprehensive Zoning Plan that pulls in the community voice sooner in the process and drives community-driven development goals. To support this as a City Council Member, I would provide funding for Community Board members to develop the technical expertise on how to draft plans, conduct stakeholder analysis and training on how to conduct successful negotiations.

A second area for improving the ULURP process would deal with the execution of timelines. Currently, the process happens in a sequential manner. First this step, then that step. I believe we can improve the process, by running certain conversations on simultaneous tracks. Running the review process on a sequential track can save time and money.

Do you believe in member deference when it comes to rezoning? I support an improved model of Council Member deference. I want to see deference combined with a transparent Comprehensive Planning approach. Comprehensive Planning would better align policy and capital budgets while also explicitly studying racial and socioeconomic disparities realized through development and reduce NIMBYism. As the District’s elected official, the Council Member should not be the sole voice in the process but should be a leading voice in the Comprehensive Plan’s district-based developments as the Member is most accountable to voters.
Should the city council cut police funding? If so, by how much? For far too long, we have required police officers to be the first responders in incidents of mental health, homelessness and drug addiction. This requirement has been a byproduct of cutting social services in the city for decades. We must allow the police to focus on areas that they are trained for; reducing crime and gang violence and keeping the public safe. I am a proponent of reinvesting funds to tackle the issues of mental health and homelessness. But I also feel that the city can leverage the current structure of police precincts to address these societal issues. Other cities have implemented co-responder models with mental health experts and community based organizations that have proven to reduce use of force and improved the city’s ability to refer cases to the correct experts to deal with a mental health or homeless case.

One critical concern with the appropriations for the NYPD relates to overtime and its lack of fiscal control. As we saw again this week, the NYPD will exceed its planned budget for the year in just eight months and there are seemingly no limits on how these costs are incurred or controlled. While the city must provide adequate policing in response to unforeseen needs, there needs to be better mechanisms for this and better planning for force numbers and uses. If the city is to fund alternatives to enforcement actions with other responses, we must be able to control costs and budget accordingly.

Do you think non-citizens (including undocumented immigrants) should be able to vote in New York City elections? While I am a strong supporter of bestowing certain benefits on undocumented immigrants such as access to health care and drivers licenses, and having the federal government create pathways to citizenship, I do not support allowing non-citizens to vote in elections until that status has been achieved. Voting is a sacred duty of all majority-age citizens and is a benefit bestowed upon those who become citizens.
How would you select community board members and is the current system working? When I am out talking to voters, most of them admit to me that they do not know the roles and responsibility of the Community Board. It is obvious that we need to educate the public with a public awareness campaign. Informing the public on Community Boards will engage them more in the process and also serve as a recruitment tool. As a City Council Member I would pledge to cast a wide recruitment net to ensure that my appointees represent a diverse makeup of the community. There is not enough diversity on the Community Boards and I would make that a priority by working with community based organizations, schools, and religious institutions to recruit new members. Additionally I would also provide funds for training Community Boards on issues such as recruitment, diversity, and community negotiations.
Are you an advocate for protected bicycle lanes in the district and, if so, where do you think they should go? As a bike commuter myself, my goal for action as a City Council Member is to create more, safe, and viable transportation alternatives for all New Yorkers. I support the Regional Plan Association’s 5 Borough Bikeway plan to create the 425-mile citywide network of protected, continuous, priority bike lanes so commuters can travel safely and efficiently. This plan smartly builds upon the the benchmarks established by New York City’s Streets Master Plan and will help ensure that every community benefits from protected bike lanes. I also support Increasing the number of bike racks so bicyclists can safely lock up their bikes in order to shop locally, spend at local restaurants, visit family and friends, and easily access other modes of mass transit.
What is your view on the transportation network in Queens? What would you do to improve it? District 22 has the good fortune of being serviced by multiple subway lines that include the N, W, R and M lines as well as multiple bus routes such as the Q18, 19, 66, 69, 101, M60 and others. However, most of our subway lines run on elevated tracks which require elevator access for people with disabilities. While elevators were brought in during a recent renovation of the subway platforms, we missed a real opportunity to make all elevated subway stops ADA compliant and accessible to our neighbors living with disabilities. Many of the bus lines are routed along busy commercial strips and are typically slowed down due to double parked cars. A result is delays in a given route and sometimes “herding,” which detracts from the quality of service and reduces the reliability of published schedules. I would want to see more cooperation by DOT on working with local businesses and BIDs to reduce double parking, whether for deliveries or customers, that impede bus movements on routes down commercial strips.

For the borough as a whole, I am well aware that there are too many transit deserts. We must revisit the Queens Bus Redesign project and look to add or divert bus routes so that they address some of these transit deserts. Revenues for these projects could come from congestion pricing and fines collected from automated speed cameras. And I support the planning and creation of more dedicated bus lanes and an increase in the number of buses that accept all door boarding and prepayments. As well, transit deserts can be serviced by expanding more shared programs like Citbike and Revel Scooter.

Finally, we must ensure that the Safe Streets program is fully implemented to enhance safety and ease congestion to the benefit of our entire community, especially seniors and those with disabilities. The improvements made included more lighting under the elevated trains, long signal times for crossing certain busy intersections, and more clearly marked lanes and crosswalks.