March 1, 2017 By Hannah Wulkan (update 6:05 pm)
A local council member is calling for the removal of a Community Board 4 member after she allegedly made racist remarks at a committee meeting last night.
Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland called for CB 4 member Ann Pfoser Darby, who has been a member for about 30 years, to be removed from the board after she allegedly said, “Once Trump removes all the illegals from Corona, there won’t be anybody to ride bike lanes,” at a transportation committee meeting last night.
“This is a shockingly racist and xenophobic statement from a public servant. Such comments which are unambiguously racist and morally repugnant will not be ignored nor met with silence or indifference,” Ferreras said in a statement.
The controversial quote, however, is being disputed and the council woman has come under fire from some for being too quick to condemn Darby.
Though Ferreras-Copeland was not at the meeting herself, one of her staff members was there, and in a statement on Facebook the council woman cited a tweet about the incident from Transportation Alternatives advocate Juan Restrepo.
Ferreras-Copeland sent a letter to Queens Borough President Melinda Katz today requesting Darby’s removal from the board.
However the Council Member’s decision to vilify Darby with such haste is being questioned.
Community Board 4 released an apology on its Facebook page earlier today for Darby’s “insensitive and hurtful comment.” However, District Manager Christian Cassagnol said he believed that Darby’s comments were exaggerated, and that she did not, in fact, say exactly what Ferreras-Copeland said she did.
“I wasn’t here for meeting but I listened to the audio recording, and that’s not what she said,” Cassagnol said. “It’s hard to accept the fact that that comment has quotes around it when we have an audio recording proving otherwise.”
Though he would not release the exact wording of Darby’s comment, he said that she said something along the lines of “the bike lanes won’t last long because all those riding on them will be home by then.” He added that he didn’t hear the words “Trump,” “Immigrant,” or “Latino” on the recording.
He added that the Board has had issues with Transportation Alternatives, circulating false information about community board issues in the past. Transportation Alternatives is a lobby group that calls for bike lanes and pedestrian safety.
Restrepro, however, stood by his tweet, saying that he heard Darby say the exact words that he tweeted at the beginning of the meeting. “Racism like this has no place in a community that is predominantly Latino,” he said.
Darby could not be reached for comment. However, late Wednesday Darby’s views on immigrants and bike lanes became crystal clear when she shared her observations on bicyclists on Queens Blvd with DNAinfo.
“I see who goes by and who doesn’t, and there was a lot of people going by to work early in the morning and like about 90 percent of them are gone,” she told DNAinfo — adding that she took it as a sign that these people have been “picked up by ICE [Immigrations Customs Enforcement.]”
“It looks like they were illegal aliens, I don’t know, I didn’t speak to them,” she told DNAinfo, saying that she could tell they were illegal by the way they dress and speak.
CB 4 Chair Damían Vargas also responded to Ferreras-Copeland on Facebook, writing, “While the comments made by Ms. Darby are unacceptable and will not be tolerated by Community Board 4, Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland statement only serves to further a political agenda while further dividing a community in need of bridges and trust of our elected officials.”
“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 a elected official. #altenativefacts,” he continued.
Ferreras-Copeland responded on Facebook to Vargas’ comment, writing “ Let me be crystal clear: I called her statement “racist” and “xenophobic”. Not her, nor other community board members. I look forward to working with you and other board members to resolve this urgent issue. As one of the three elected officials responsible for appointing the members of this board, it is my duty to respond when our community is attacked.”
Vargas later wrote “Defending a community does not require attacking that same community.”