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James Wu embraces change

To James Wu, leading a constantly changing community requires an elected official to move and react with it, not against it.

Wu is one of six Democrats and eight candidates vying to replace City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) in November’s general election.

Wu is no stranger to District 20, which encompasses Flushing, Queensboro Hill, Mitchell Gardens, Kissena Park, Auburndale and a portion of Whitestone. The son of longtime community activist and politician Ethel Chen, Wu has never lived outside the district and said he has seen it evolve dramatically over the last several decades into one of the most populated and ethnically diverse Council districts in the city.

Understanding those changes, Wu said, is key to leading a community as a councilman.

“If you look at the community as an organic entity, there’s a natural flow to the traffic, there’s a natural flow to development,” Wu said. “The city needs to grow and change and develop certainly, but it has to do so organically. Understanding the community’s issues is about more than just talking about them.”

Wu, a Democratic district leader in Flushing for the last seven years, said some of his ideas for implementing such an approach in the Council are straightforward.

He said he would strive as a mediator between city agencies and the community to balance the needs of the community with the infrastructure needs of the city — such as on the upcoming Auburndale rezoning plan.

Wu also hopes to work with the public and private sectors to open more parking lots near Northern Boulevard in downtown Flushing to take some of the strain off of Municipal Lot 1.

Another of policy Wu hopes to push already exists in city law: Jaywalking. Wu believes enforcing jaywalking laws would be a simple means of cutting down on pedestrian accidents, increasing traffic flow and generating revenue for the city.

“Just think of it: Just like you send people to traffic school, you could send them to pedestrian school,” Wu said. “People would learn very quickly and you’d see less accidents.”

He said if elected he will also push ideas that will push the city ahead of the curve. Wu is an advocate of integrating digital textbooks into the public school system.

By housing textbooks on a digital reader like an Amazon Kindle, Wu said students would be saved from having to lug around bulky textbooks and the city millions of dollars and put the school system on the cutting edge of innovative learning.

“With e-books, you add the advantage of interactivity,” Wu said. “If students don’t know a word, they can look it up. They can read newspapers in the mornings and write notes digitally right into the text. And the easier you make something, the more likely people are to use it.”

Wu said he would also mount a major effort to restore the long-abandoned RKO Keith’s theater on Northern Boulevard to its former glory. Wu said he believes working with existing city institutions to purchase the property could result in transforming the historic theater into a major community arts center. 

“You realize in times of economic crisis how much people need the arts. People flock to these centers,” Wu said. “There’s no reason we can’t make this that major center for the community in northern Queens.”

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at sstirling@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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