According to Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, at a Transportation Committee meeting on February 28, CB4 member Ann Pfoser Darby made an offensive remark while debating a proposal to install bike lanes on 111th Street in Corona.
“Once Trump removes all the illegals from Corona, there won’t be anybody to ride bike lanes,” Darby allegedly said at the meeting.
In a statement, Ferreras-Copeland denounced the board member’s words.
“This is a shockingly racist and xenophobic statement from a public servant,” she said. “Such comments, which are unambiguously racist and morally repugnant, will not be ignored nor met with silence or indifference.
“I demand the immediate removal of this board member for promoting hatred and ignorance,” she added. “It is time she is removed and is replaced with someone who is serious about restoring the public’s trust in their government.”
Ferreras-Copeland said the board represents a large immigrant community. She then asserted that the comments raise concerns that “this bigoted attitude is behind delaying necessary safety improvements,” which she said CB4 has obstructed for three years.
In response to the councilwoman’s statement, board chair Damian Vargas posted on his Facebook page that Darby’s comments were “unacceptable and will not be tolerated.” But Vargas also slammed Ferreras-Copeland’s statement for furthering “a political agenda while further dividing a community.”
“Unsubstantiated suggestions that 42 members of Queens Community Board 4 are racists, xenophobes, share Ms. Darby’s point of view, and is the basis for requesting additional safety improvement studies along 111th Street are themselves shockingly inappropriate coming from an elected official,” Vargas wrote.
The board chair added that Ferreras-Copeland’s “insulting” statement amounted to an attack on his character and values. He demanded an apology from the councilwoman before he addresses Darby’s comments.
Darby’s remarks were first shared by Juan Restrepo, an organizer for the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives. He said the board member’s comments were not the first time she has “spoken in this nature.”
“There have been times where she’s made other comments of this nature that have not gone viral,” he said. “This is the first time that people are actually talking about it.”
Recalling the incident, Restrepo said it happened when Darby and another CB4 member, Priscilla Carrow, were arguing about immigration. Restrepo said Vargas, who is also an immigration lawyer, stepped in and spoke directly against Darby’s comments.
“I respect anybody who spends a large portion of their life and their time dedicated to public service, but she has not served her public,” Restrepo said. “Corona is a majority-immigrant, multinational neighborhood. To say something like that, to make inflammatory statements about the majority of your constituents, is not public service.”
When asked if he thought Darby should be removed from the board, Restrepo said it wasn’t up to him to decide.
“These types of comments by public servants are never acceptable,” said Borough President Melinda Katz in a statement.
Katz said she would reserve further comment because the 2017 Community Board application process is underway. Along with individual council members, the borough president has discretion on who is appointed to the borough's community boards.
Katz’s office confirmed that Darby did apply for reappointment. Katz will announce her decisions on community board appointments at the end of the month. New terms start on April 1.
Western Queens council members also denounced Darby’s comments. Councilman Daniel Dromm, who represents the Elmhurst section of Community Board 4, called her remarks “horribly xenophobic and racist.” He said he will not reappoint her to the board next month.
“Because her name will come before me, when I go in to meet with the borough president about the next set of appointments, I will not be reappointing her,” he said.
Dromm said Darby has been a “longtime problem” in the community. He referenced her previous opposition to LGBT rights and other progressive issues.
“For an appointee of an elected official, it’s particularly offensive because she’s supposed to represent the people who live in that district,” Dromm said. “That district is primarily made up of immigrants, some documented and some undocumented. Her point of view does not in any way, shape or form represent the residents of that district.”
Community Board 4 is scheduled to vote on the 111th Street bike lanes plan at its March 14th meeting. Dromm said he wants the board to reschedule the vote.
“I would urge the board to wait on that decision and postpone that vote until a new board comes in,” he said.
According to multiple reports, Darby doubled down on her comments, telling outlets that she can identify undocumented immigrants by the clothes they wear.
At an unrelated event in Queens last week, Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg spoke about the need for the bike lanes on 111th Street.
“We see all kinds of New Yorkers cycling on that street, immigrants, native-born, young, old, families with children,” she said. “We think this is a really important project and we really want to see it go forward.”
Restrepo, an Astoria native, said the comments felt personal because his family is Latino. He said his family was proud of him for sharing Darby’s comments.
“To hear somebody say something like that about immigrants, it’s my father, my mother, my grandparents,” Restrepo said. “This is a community meeting, this is not a place to vent your frustration.”
The transportation advocate added that Darby will likely be at the community board meeting when the project is up for a vote.
“She obviously does not have a clear mind to discuss,” Restrepo said. “The question is, are they going to allow someone like that to vote on a project like this when they’ve shown they have political motivations for the way they’re determining transportation policy?”