By David Brand
Nick Roloson, the chief of staff for Councilmember Costa Constantinides, is running for his term-limited boss’ seat in Western Queens. Constantinides, a candidate for Queens Borough President, will finish his second term representing Council District 22 in 2021.
Roloson, 30, has framed his campaign as a “fight against cynicism,” informed by his own childhood experience overcoming a near-debilitating arachnoid cyst on his brain. Doctors told his mom he could die or end up permanently disabled, he said; school bullies told him he could never achieve his goals.
“I think this is analogous to politics,” he said. “The same cynics who were immediately always telling me no are prominent in our politics today.”
The cynics, Roloson said, have dismissed and sabotaged solutions to safe street design, environmental sustainability and affordable housing — the three issues that form the core of his campaign to represent Astoria.
“In our neighborhood, housing is the number one issue,” he said. “Everyone who has been in Astoria knows that rents are ridiculously too high. Senior citizens can’t stay in the neighborhood, young people can’t move here.”
Roloson said he would work to establish more affordable housing in the area and advocate to expand community land trusts that would give residents more power over housing and property.
Roloson said he bikes in fear through Astoria’s “scary” streets and wants the city to “immediately expand the network of protected bike lanes.” He also drives a car and opposes a proposed Target on 31st Avenue, which could create a traffic and pedestrian nightmare as trucks park along the street to load and unload goods.
As chair of the Council’s Committee on Environmental Protection, Constantinides has championed the environmental justice and sustainable energy initiatives contained in the Climate Mobilization Act, which he sponsored. Roloson said he would continue to further the sustainability efforts he has worked on as chief of staff.
Roloson grew up in Amityville, Long Island and moved to Queens to attend St. John’s University. He lives in Astoria and has worked for Assemblymembers Nily Rozic and Brian Barnwell and on the campaign of City Council candidate Jacque LeAndre. He is a former political director of the Powhatan Democratic Club and the club headquarters is decorated with his old couch and cupboard.
Despite his club connections, Roloson said he would not run for district leader — another position occupied by Constantinides, who told the Eagle he would step down when his term ends. Roloson said he agreed with the reform-minded Queens County Committee for All and the Queens New Reformers, who have called on elected officials not to also serve as district leaders.
Roloson specifically said he would reject campaign contributions from developers and the real estate industry, lobbyists and bankers — a pledge that could appeal to Western Queens progressives. Roloson said he will “100 percent” seek the endorsement of the Democratic Socialists of America, but the organization did not seem enthused about the prospect.
“I guess our endorsement process is technically open to anyone who wants to apply,” said Queens DSA spokesperson Aaron Taube, on behalf of the Queens DSA Electoral Working Group Organization Committee.
Roloson said he voted for Tiffany Cabán for Queens district attorney and grudgingly supports the city’s plan to build four new jails.
“Rikers needs to close immediately,” he said. “Any act that takes Rikers is a good thing.”
He disagrees with the unprecedented land use application that linked projects in multiple boroughs and will result in large-scale towers, however.
“I think there were a lot of procedural problems with the way this plan went through,” such as the exclusion of land use text that actually closes Rikers, he said. The land use measure to close Rikers jails was introduced just days ahead of the Council vote on the jails plan.
Roloson’s crusade against cynicism stops short of embracing every progressive platform, however. Though he said he admired the advocacy of the No New Jails coalition, he disagreed with their core principle.
“We need jails in our society,” he said. “We’ll never have a prison population of zero.”