Democratic Bay Ridge city Council candidate Vince Chirico sat down with Community News Group editors on Aug. 18 to discuss his campaign for the party’s nod for the Ridge seat. Chirico, who emigrated to the U.S. from Italy with his family at age 7, touted his sta tus as an independent political outsider as an advantage in the race. The Dyker Heights resident spent the past 25 years in the private sector, but does have some political experience, having worked in the State Assembly in 1986 and as Assemblyman Peter Abbate’s first Chief of Staff in 1987. He said that coalition building and advocating on behalf of the community are what drew him to both law and his late-entry Council run. Chirico was cautiously open to bringing Citi Bike to Bay Ridge and also suggested specific ways to expand ferry access and called for more stringent enforcement of inspections and penalties against violators of the new aggravated illegal home conversion law. Chirico is running against four other candidates to secure the Democratic nomination for the 43rd district and said he did not have an answer as to whether or not he would support the Democratic nominee.
On his qualifications:
The Italian immigrant emphasized his background as a lawyer and a “natural advocate” with both private and public sector experience. He said his work in coalition building has prepared him for the role, and cited his nonprofit work and more than 20 years on Community Board 11 as evidence of his commitment to public service.
“One of the reasons why I jumped in is that I’m a firm believer that you need someone in the majority party in the Council from that district in order to get more done so you don’t get sidelined and the community doesn’t suffer from it. You need someone in that seat who has had 30 years of private and public sector experience to be able to handle and tackle those and build coalitions. I’m the only candidate running now that has that 25 years of private sector, legal, advocacy, coalition-building experience.”
On transportation issues in Bay Ridge:
Chirico called for expanding transportation alternatives in the district to combat subway overcrowding. He praised the new ferry service but said he would push for a shuttle bus between R line station stops and the 69th Street pier to offer easier ferry access. He also called for the construction of a pier near the Caesar’s Bay shopping center, to expand ferry service to the other side of the district.
“What the current councilman has done and what I would expand on is enhancing alternatives, different ways to get to work and from work, to help the overcrowding of the subway system, which is causing some of the issues. The ferry service that has started in Bay Ridge — it’s a great start, but it needs a lot of help. We also have on the other end of the district the area where a pier could be built for another ferry stop where you have built-in parking readily available, but nobody has considered that. It’s at the foot of Bay Parkway, in the heart of Bensonhurst. That would be the perfect place for a ferry stop. So we need to look at that as an alternative.”
On Citi Bike in Bay Ridge:
Chirico said he would consider supporting Citi Bike if the service did not take up parking spots and could be installed on sidewalks in certain areas. He pinpointed sidewalk space on Shore Road as an area that would allow for docking, and also said the service could possibly be instituted on certain parts of Fourth Avenue and 13th Avenue.
“I don’t think the current design would work well in my district. One of the biggest problems in my district is parking. If our community boards heard that we’re taking away four to five parking spots every couple of blocks to put those stations in, they would have a fit. Biking is a great alternative, it’s a success, but you need to do it in a smart way that would work in each community, and I think you need to consider alternative designs. There’s a lot of room for discussion. I would love to see Citi Bike come out there.”
On sanitation issues in Bay Ridge:
Chirico criticized the city for bringing new sanitation policies and infrastructure in the area without much foresight. He does not support the new garbage collection policy affecting the neighborhood’s four private streets and called for the deployment of smaller trucks to reach these streets. Chirico does support the mayor’s bid to make New York a zero-waste city by 2030, but also pointed out that the construction of the Bensonhurst waste transfer station contradicts the mayor’s policy if there will truly be no use for it in a decade.
“It’s an absolute travesty to require you to come out and put your garbage on your next door neighbor’s property. There is no reason each Sanitation garage doesn’t have smaller vehicles that can fit into Barwell Terrace in those hard-to-reach places where you have smaller trucks going in and collecting garbage and coming out and dumping them in to bigger trucks. There are smarter ways to do this. I think also the construction of the waste transfer station in the east end of this district is a real issue. I frankly don’t understand it. I am all for composting, I am all for recycling, I think it’s a wonderful thing, and I’d love to get to the day where we have zero residential garbage, which, well-thought-out, can happen in the next 10–15 years.”
On his political leanings:
Chirico characterized himself as a centrist who leans the left on social issues and to the right on fiscal issues.
“I see myself firmly entrenched in the political center. It also depends on the issues, of course. Socially, as an immigrant I’m fully cognizant of the myriad ethnic groups we have. We have every single ethnic group, we have every single makeup, we have multiple religions. Socially, I tend to be a lot more liberal, economically I tend to be a lot more conservative.”
On earning outside income as a Council member and whether Council should be a full-time job:
Chirico said he is glad Council seats have become full-time positions he committed to give up his Bay Ridge law practice if elected.
“I’m glad it’s become a full-time job. It’s good in the sense that you get a Council member to actually focus on the role as a full-time job. I know that if I win, I would give up my law practice. I would have to. I’m fine with it.”
On the opioid crisis:
Chirico said he does not support a city-funded study of safe injection spaces for heroin users. Instead, he called for training community groups and healthcare centers to work with emergency responders and hospitals in order to strengthen the overall community response. He also pointed to Buffalo’s opioid court as the model he would consider pushing in the district.
“I don’t think [injection sites are] the answer. I think that is, at best, an emergency stopgap measure. We need to do more education. There’s a lot of community-based nonprofits. We ought to require them to provide emergency opioid training. This is an epidemic. We have the facilities there, it’s about building the coalitions and doing the things that makes sense.”
On illegal home conversions in Bay Ridge:
Chirico criticized Councilman Gentile’s bill, which fines violators, as not going far enough to curb illegal home conversions in the district, blaming the issue for myriad other local complaints, such as garbage, parking, school overcrowding and infrastructure problems. He called for stronger enforcement by amending the administrative code to require more access for building inspections.
“It’s a multi-headed problem. The Gentile bill is a step in the right direction, but I don’t think it’s anywhere near enough on the enforcement side. I think we need to amend the administrative code to require Fire Department inspections on buildings with three units or more. Illegal home conversion affects everything in my district. It affects school overcrowding, it affects phone lines and electric lines. We’re over-tapped.”
On his assessment of Gentile’s term:
Chirico faulted Gentile for not doing enough for the district over the course of his tenure — the longest of any sitting Council member.
“I think he could’ve done a lot better. This district as not gotten anywhere near the amount of resources given the tax base and the tax contributions that come out of it. He’s done a lot this past year in terms of discretionary funding. But in years past, I think the community suffered.”
On his political aspirations beyond the Council:
Chirico said that although he has not thought about his future beyond his Council term, he does not rule out a longer-term career switch to politics.
“I don’t need this seat — I’m not doing this because I have political ambitions. I’m doing it because I want to do more of what I’ve been doing on a broader scale. If that means I succeed in getting a second term — assuming I get a first — great. What happens after that I really can’t tell you. Advocacy is in my blood. I’ll do it one way or the other, whether it’s as an elected official or just a community board member or nonprofit leader.”
Chirico said he would allow charter schools in the district and would particularly support putting them in abandoned buildings of shuttered religious schools as a means to combat the district’s overcrowding problem.
“In the ideal world, charter schools would be the perfect fit for those school buildings that have been closed down by the diocese. The overcrowding problem is a huge problem and I’m a big proponent of the public school system. But to the extent that charter schools are here, I think you need to provide smart solutions about them. You need to provide choices.”
At the end of the meeting, Chirico answered a quick series of questions.
• Favorite restaurant: Ponte Vecchio
• Favorite movie: “Goodfellas”
• Last book read: “Frank: The Voice” by James Kaplan
• Main source for news: Online news sites. “I read all the dailies — the News, the Post, the Times … the local papers.”
• Is the media fair to politicians?: “No, generally, but it’s not their role to be fair.”
• Does global warming exist, and if so, is it caused by humans burning fossil fuels?: Yes/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?: Yes