In Astoria, New York, the malign effects of progressive policies are on full display. For years, Astoria was a community of enterprising immigrants, mostly from Greece and Italy, whose zest for life made for wonderful restaurants, attractive mom-and-pop shops, affordable housing, and thriving small businesses. Today, residents increasingly find themselves priced out of their own neighborhoods and many small-business owners are calling it quits in the face of mounting crime, lawlessness, and poor quality of life. Closed shops are now common sights in the neighborhood’s commercial districts. On 34th Avenue between Crescent and 21st Streets, in less than a year, two convenience stores, a dry cleaner, a bank, a gym, and a Walgreens have all shuttered. Shoplifting largely explains the struggles of the area’s once-flourishing economy. Looking on the neighborhood’s deterioration, some longtime residents wonder: What happened to the Astoria they knew and loved?
The Republican candidate for City Council District 22, Kelly Klingman, who lives with her two young children on 23rd Avenue, is running a campaign that seeks to highlight these issues. Klingman faces an uphill climb in her contest against Democratic incumbent Tiffany Caban in next Tuesday’s election, but she has delivered an effective campaign message: she promises to restore the neighborhood to its former glory—the friendly, creative, exuberant place that produced Lidia Bastianich, Ethel Merman, Tony Bennett, Christopher Walken, and Whitey Ford.
“Small businesses,” Klingman told me, “are the lifeblood of any vibrant neighborhood.” She vows to encourage programs that encourage the establishment and growth of businesses, including tax incentives.
Klingman believes that restoring Astoria’s economy requires the restoration of law and order. “It is vital to recognize that quality of life directly affects the well-being of small business owners and their employees, and vice versa,” she says. In this climate, she argues, voters should support a candidate who prioritizes public safety.
Klingman’s positions contrast sharply with Caban’s. She supports expanding zoning in manufacturing districts to allow residential construction, cutting taxes, and urging the state legislature to amend a 2019 law that restricts rent-stabilized landlords from adding capital improvements to rent increases and thus keeps units in need of refurbishment vacant. She opposes Local Law 97, which threatens to render over 800,000 co-ops unaffordable by imposing annual fines on buildings that exceed a city-imposed carbon limit. And she wants to work with the district attorney’s office and the NYPD to curb crime in the district. Caban, by contrast, supports defunding the NYPD, government-controlled housing, legalizing prostitution, and raising taxes.
Klingman could be the kind of Republican candidate who garners enough bipartisan support to win a seat in blue New York. When asked what she would do if elected, she evoked one of the elder statesmen of the pre-progressive Democratic Party: “I am a candidate for office in the good old tradition of Peter Vallone Sr.” Vallone, a Democrat, was Astoria’s New York City councilman from 1974 to 2001. Klingman admires Vallone because he “dedicated his political career to championing the interests of the community and got good things done by following a truly collaborative approach to governance.” His values “centered on faith, family, and community.”
Asked to make a case for her candidacy, Klingman identified herself as “a dedicated parent who raises my children in Astoria” with “a genuine stake in the neighborhood’s welfare.” She highlighted her long career in real estate as proof that she can help fix the neighborhood’s affordable-housing crisis. And she also emphasizes her support for school choice.
Whether Klingman will prevail at the ballot box next week is anyone’s guess. The result may hinge on whether enough Astorians feel that the neighborhood’s problems have become serious enough to warrant making a change.