Astoria’s green movement has a new leader

Posted on September 9th, 2009 by Melissa Kondak in Politics

Reported on July 11, 2009

John Simeonidis Jr., one of six owners of Bareburger, an organic restaurant in Astoria, Queens, slammed his hand down and rattled his recycled silverware.

“Astoria needs a good cleaning,” he said. “Two nights ago the wind picked up and there was nothing but garbage blowing down the street.”

A growing movement of environmentally conscious or “green” consumers has quietly rearranged Astoria at an increasing rate, with additions like organic restaurants, a community garden and bike lanes.

Two Coves Community Garden on Friday, July 10, 2009. Photo: Melissa Kondak

Two Coves Community Garden on Friday, July 10, 2009. Photo: Melissa Kondak

These consumers now have a ringleader in Lynne Serpe, 37, Green Party candidate for City Council’s District 22 who started her campaign on July 17th and is the only challenger against incumbent Peter F. Vallone Jr., 48.

When Serpe moved to Astoria 15 years ago, Peter F. Vallone Sr. was two years into his City Council term, which he served from 1992 to 2001. His son Peter F. Vallone Jr. was elected in 2002 and has held the position ever since.

“We need changes,” Serpe said.

Changes are not new to Serpe. She co-founded a recycling program called Triple R Events: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and she serves on the steering committee of Two Coves Community Garden. She is also active with Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group for public transportation.

People have noticed and today her campaign posters are in storefronts across Astoria.

Serpe’s supporters say Vallone has neglected green initiatives.

“Vallone doesn’t do anything,” said Bryce Engen, a member of Transportation Alternatives. “Unchallenged leadership goes down one path and you don’t see changes.”

However, Vallone said the environment is a priority.

As pro bono counsel of C.H.O.K.E., the Coalition Helping Organize a Kleaner Environment, he led a lawsuit that will close the Poletti Power Plant in 2010.

“Green is a huge part of my lifestyle,” said Vallone. “I even wrote the trans fat bill here in New York City.”

Serpe disagrees.  Her Web site states she wants to give voters a choice between “the 35-year family dynasty and a vibrant green future.”

The issue is where to begin.

“How do you compete against somebody whose grandfather has a school named after him?” asked Stacey Ornstein, president of Astoria Community Support Agriculture, an organization for organic farming.

Vallone and Serpe disagree over the fate of the Two Coves Community Garden. He is moving forward with a park by Goodwill Industries, a nonprofit organization that provides training for disadvantaged individuals, to replace the garden.

The plan was proposed 10 years ago, but by 2006 there was no progress on the vacant lot.

Goodwill volunteers started a garden instead, and today there are 104 plots tended by more than 200 members.

Vallone still plans to build the park.

“The community garden is across from Astoria Houses and that entire area is considered a food desert,” said Serpe. “There is no access to safe, healthy food.”

The deal was never permanent, according to Vallone.

“It was unused space and we had no way of developing it,” said Vallone. “We said you can use it until we get money to make it a park.”

In light of community complaints, Vallone said he might allow a small number of plots to remain, but the rest will be destroyed.

Serpe has a long road ahead to take on this kind of power.

But even if she does not defeat Vallone, Astoria’s green consumers identify Serpe as the face of their movement.

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