Op-Ed: District 27 City Council Candidate James Johnson Puts Community First

The people of City Council District 27 have not been at the table for a lot of the decision-making regarding our community. The city’s latest pronouncement to expand the Merrick Boulevard bus lanes is another example of the government and the people’s lack of transparency.

We need someone that will put the community first and make them the backbone of every choice surrounding the neighborhoods of Cambria Heights, Hollis, Jamaica, St. Albans, Queens Village and Springfield Gardens. This is why I am running for City Council to ensure we have our voices heard at City Hall. 

Amid a worldwide pandemic, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in June that the city would be expanding 20 miles of bus lanes throughout the five boroughs at nine corridors without thoroughly reaching out to the 750,000 straphangers citywide and the approximately 160,000 residents of District 27.

One of the nine spots includes a 6.4-mile stretch of Merrick Boulevard that would create more bus lanes from Springfield Boulevard to Hillside Avenue under his proposal. However, the mayor’s plan did not have the input of the whole community.

The city reached out to Community Board 12, a few small businesses and some civic centers after the fact, but does that encompass the whole community?

Have we talked to students whose parents will drop them off to school every day when schools open up again? Did we talk to seniors who drive to church every Sunday?

The New York City Department of Transportation has chosen time and time again to make unilateral decisions that affect hundreds of thousands to millions of residents every day without consulting them or wholly ignoring their suggestions altogether.  

Since the announcement, residents have had just four months to adjust to parking loss. Those who were unaware of the expansion are also susceptible to ticketing because of potential bus cameras.

Both the MTA and Transportation Alternatives say that the bus lanes announced don’t match what was proposed by each organization. The Transit Authority didn’t include Merrick Boulevard as a priority corridor; instead, it had the far busier bus hub of Archer Avenue, which would have included a busway from 146 Street to 168 Street.

Archer Avenue has a higher bus ridership than Merrick Boulevard, and it is near York College, the Sutphin Boulevard LIRR and the EJZ subway lines.

We are not against better traffic flow in Southeast Queens via public transportation. We want to be in the conversation surrounding the decision-making on these far-reaching policies.

While community boards, civic associations are useful, I intend to go beyond these organizations to make sure that we are reaching every citizen in our district on the important issues. 

This lack of conversation has been happening for decades. We need a new generation of leadership so that this will never happen to us over and over again. It is the government’s job to do outreach, educate and listen to its people to provide them the service they deserve.

We need to change how we engage the public to better connect to their needs. As a community organizer, I have been meeting the people where they are.

I am the founder of Opportunities for Southeast Queens Millennials (O.F.S.E.Q.M.), a community-based organization that is focused on increasing the political and civic participation of millennial and Generation Z residents in Southeast Queens, some of which live with their parents and grandparents. 

I know how to unite them under a common goal and if elected, I will bring the community to the table instead of pushing politics as usual.

James Johnson running to represent District 27 on the New York City Council.

Editor’s Note: This op-ed has been edited to reflect that Johnson is a community organizer, not a former community organizer, and to specify the New York City Department of Transportation instead of the “city’s administration.”

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