Upgrading LaGuardia Is One Thing Pandemic Hasn’t Derailed

Better times? This 2018 photo shows traffic on the Grand Central Parkway near LaGuardia Airport in Queens, New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

MANHATTAN (CN) — Experts are calling it the worst year in the history of aviation, but New York grasped at some normalcy Wednesday as Governor Andrew Cuomo cut a ribbon at a new LaGuardia Airport concourse.

The infamously dilapidated Queens airport, which “Saturday Night Live” lampooned before mere weeks before the coronavirus pandemic made its relative horrors something of a wistful memory, is several years into an overhaul.

With demand for future travel down 82%, however, it will be some time before LaGuardia’s facelift will be fully appreciated.

“This is building a new airport while you’re operating the old airport,” Cuomo said at LaGuardia this afternoon. “This is, renovate your home while you’re living in the home. Operate the airport and build a new airport at the same time, and by the way you’re doing it on one of the smallest pieces of land of any airport in the country.”

But there is a silver lining even to ongoing construction work, said Rick Cotton, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, noting that the renovation is generating more than 14,000 paying jobs.

Queens-based businesses took in over half a billion from the LaGuardia redevelopment program, which otherwise awarded more than $1.4 billion in contracts to businesses that are women- or minority-owned, he added.

“This is long overdue,” Cuomo said. “LaGuardia was an embarrassment.”

Cuomo also addressed two more urgent crises facing his state — racial injustice and the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“These are two very different situations. They actually intersect, and they complicate one another. But they’re two very different crises that we’re managing at the same time,” Cuomo said. 

The state Legislature passed a bill Tuesday that repeals 50-A, a section of the state’s civil rights law that shields officers’ personnel records. Cuomo says he will sign it. 

New York City is now in its third day of reopening from lockdown measures effected in March — a process every other region of the state began last month. Cuomo urged caution there and across the nation.

“The situations where you have seen reopening countries around the world, they’re very mixed results,” he said. “So this really is going down a path that no one has traveled successfully. But if any place can travel it successfully, it is going to be in the state of New York.”

Cuomo has shifted the data he shares on the virus’ spread in his state as well. He now projects a chart that shows the percentage of tested residents who test positive in various regions of the state. 

“You’ll be able to see movement, and you’ll know when there’s an issue,” he said of the new system. “All of us have a role to play.”

At a separate Wednesday morning press conference in Manhattan, embattled New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio celebrated the repeal of 50-A, which his administration itself had re-interpreted to shield disciplinary as well as personnel records of police officers. The NYPD invoked the law to bar scrutiny of the records on former police officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was fired over but never charged with the 2014 killing of Eric Garner.

“So, now, we have the sunlight we’ve been waiting for. We have the kind of openness that will not only tell us about specific instances of discipline, what’s being done with an officer didn’t do the right thing — it will start to restore a deeper faith,” de Blasio said Monday, without mentioning his administration’s interpretation of the law. 

De Blasio, whose city saw days of protests and police brutality after the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, also said Wednesday he wants to focus on “larger solutions.” He announced an additional $10 million for the city’s Anti-Gun Violence Crisis Management System and Cure Violence Movement. The groups use so-called “credible messengers” to connect community members in need of support with the resources they need. 

Though the city’s budget is in crisis largely thanks to Covid-19, de Blasio has not said how much he is willing to slice from the NYPD’s nearly $6 billion coffers. 

The mayor’s own staff marched against him last week to protest his defense of the police department he controls, which was caught on camera beating up protesters, arresting legal observers and journalists, pulling down one protester’s mask to spray pepper spray in his face, and running into a crowd with two SUVs, among other actions.

Several community leaders joined de Blasio Wednesday and took the microphone either in person or virtually, including City Councilmembers Daneek Miller and Adrienne Adams, members of the Black, Latino/a, and Asian Caucus; Erica Ford, who runs the violence prevention program Life Camp; and K Bain, founder and program director of the group 696 Build Queensbridge.

“I remember just a minute ago, in our district in Southeast Queens we had 25 shootings and 12 people killed,” Ford recalled. 

“And one of the police inspectors told me, ‘There’s no way you’re going to stop retaliation; there’s no way you’re going to be able to do this.’ … We did that. We not only stopped retaliation from being at a high level, but we worked with those young people who were directly involved … we had them channeling their pain to purpose.”

As of Wednesday, New York City reported 205,011 cases of Covid-19 and 21,960 confirmed and probable virus deaths. The state counted 380,156 confirmed cases and 24,404 deaths, though the fatality count is likely low as the state does not count “probable” virus deaths. 

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