Our sit-down with Bay Ridge Council Candidate Nancy Tong

Laying the groundwork: Nancy Tong shares her ideas for the 43rd District during an interview at Community News Group on Aug. 25.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Democratic Bay Ridge Council candidate Nancy Tong met with Community News Group editors on Aug. 28 to discuss her campaign to replace term-limited Councilman Vincent Gentile. Tong, who immigrated to America from Hong Kong at the age of 7, has already made local history as the first Asian-American woman to serve as a district leader in Brooklyn. If elected, she would become both the first Asian-American elected official in Brooklyn, and the first woman to hold the Ridge seat. After eight years as a constituent services liaison for Assemblyman William Colton (D–Bensonhurst), Tong said she wants an opportunity to help even more people from City Hall. But Tong, who currently lives outside the 43rd Council District, cannot even cast a vote for herself in the Sept. 12 primary, though she said she would move to the district if she wins. She also pledged to back whomever gets the party’s nod.

On her qualifications and desire to run for the open seat:

Tong said that through her eight years of work at Colton’s office, and years as an unpaid volunteer before that, she has grown to love helping constituents, and that made her want to run for the open seat in bay Ridge.

“I help see constituents who have problems that come to us, and we try to solve the issues. I’ve seen many, many issues, and I love what I do. And sometimes I get more satisfaction than the constituent, themselves Working for the assemblyman doesn’t give me the opportunity to go and fight for issues. But as a council person, I think it would be a lot better. So that’s why, when I saw there’s an open seat, I wanted to run for this office because I love what I do, I want to work for the community.”

On not living in the district:

Tong acknowledged that she doesn’t live in the district she’s running to represent, but said it shouldn’t matter, because her main goal is simply to help people — though she did promise to move into the district if she wins the primary.

“They say that I don’t live in their district, but there’s no rule saying I’m not allowed to run. I’m a 47th Assembly District leader, which coincides with the 43rd city Council district. And also with the constituents, I see a lot of them, they come to our office, I service them, so I don’t think there’s a problem with me not being in the district right now. Part of the 43rd is in the 47th so I do service those constituents. Now there’s an open seat, and because I don’t live in the 43rd Council District, that means I cannot run for it? Once I win my primary, then I will move.

On Citi Bike coming to Bay Ridge:

Tong said Citi Bike can help ease congestion in the neighborhood, but that it cannot replace parking spaces. She also called for instructional lessons before riders take off on the two-wheelers. Tong should ask Ridgites if they want Citi Bike before imposing it.

“Actually Citi Bike is very good, for the congestion with the traffic and all that, but we should have instructions for people who ride the Citi Bike for safety. This is very important, just like when we drive our car. And also now where are you going to put the Citi Bike? Bay Ridge is very crowded and you’re going to take up their parking spaces, so you really have to see where you can find that place. They should have a poll and ask the residents do you want the bike there.”

On the sanitation issues in Bay Ridge:

Tong blasted the lack of trash pickup on the private streets as unfair to those taxpayers, but said that it could easily be solved by getting smaller trucks to navigate the narrow alleyways.

“I don’t understand why the sanitation trucks cannot go through those private streets, they’ve been doing it all along, why all of a sudden can’t they do it? The trucks are too big — couldn’t they have a smaller truck then, a special truck just to go by there? They all pay taxes even though it’s a private street, they all pay the same taxes, so they are supposed to get the benefit.”

On cracking down on illegal home conversions:

Tong said the problem of illegal home conversions is one of the most pressing in the district. She applauded Gentile’s legislation imposing harsher fines for violations, but said more needs to be done. She said the real solution is to provide more legitimate affordable housing options.

“It is a very, very big issue and something needs to be done. A lot of things need to be done, they can’t just say fine the landlord, once you fine the landlord, you know what happens with those illegal conversions, all the people have to move out and that’s where the homelessness comes from. What I would do to solve the problem is give them more affordable housing, we don’t have enough affordable housing. This has to be addressed, I’m sure they don’t want to live in those illegal conversions if they can really afford it. It’s very important that we deal with illegal conversions not just by fining the landlord, it’s not going to help, they pay the fine, you think they are not going to do it again? I’m sure they would do it again.”

On school overcrowding:

Tong said the need to build more schools is obvious, but it’s not practical simply because of how long it takes. She argued that the city should instead provide extensions to existing schools.

“They keep saying ‘build more schools, build more schools.’ Who doesn’t know that? Everyone knows you should build more schools, but is it going to be in time for the kids to build a new school? It takes a long time. My suggestion is we should find space where we can do an extension — this is a better way of solving the issues because building a school we know takes years. So we should find a place where we can have an extension.”

On the opioid epidemic:

Tong is against providing injection facilities where heroin addicts can safely use the drug, and said that addicts should instead have access to more treatment and counseling centers.

“We should not have a place where they can legally inject. What I suggest is they should have an office where they teach those opioid addicts to how they can stop — and they should go after the ones who are pushing those opioids. Opening a center just for them to put the injections is not going stop it.”

On her rather quiet campaign:

Tong said it’s simply not her style to blast out press release after press release. She’s confident the community has all they need to know about her and her dedication to the constituents.

“When you say I haven’t had a lot of press releases, I don’t like to advertise, I just like to work and do what’s right, so that’s why you have not heard a lot about me. I only like to work for those who need help, why do I need to advertise? I want to service my people so that’s why when you ask me, how come you don’t see any press releases, that’s not Nancy Tong. I really just want to work for the people. I do knock on doors — I do like to do it myself, knocking on doors to introduce myself to them, and a lot of the time they know me too from coming into the Assemblyman’s office.”

On the lack of women in the city Council:

Tong said both women and Asian-Americans in her would-be district are not well represented in City Hall — out of the 51 members, there are currently just 13 women, and that number could drop even lower after the 2017 election.

“There are so many Asians there, but they are not represented. Not only are the Asians underrepresented — you know no woman has ever taken that seat, the 43rd Council district. Women are underrepresented — we are underrepresented women and also Asians.”

Lightning Round

At the end of the meeting, Tong answered a quick series of questions.

• Favorite restaurant: Howong on Bay Parkway

• Favorite movie: Harry Potter

• Last book you read: “Flowers in the Attic” by V. C. Andrews

• Main source for news: 11 pm news, TV

• Is the media fair to politicians?: “I don’t think so.”

• Does global warming exist, and if so, is it caused by humans burning fossil fuels?: Yes and yes

• Fracking in upstate New York?: No

• Should Fort Hamilton Army Base rename the streets within it named after Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson?: In one of Tong’s few press releases sent out she said she supports keeping the statue of Christopher Columbus in Manhattan, but doesn’t know how she feels about renaming the streets at Fort Hamilton Army Base “I have not read about that — if I don’t know, I wouldn’t comment.”

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.

More from Around New York