ASTORIA — After moving to Astoria from Italy as a young boy, Antonio Meloni has dedicated himself to his neighborhood, sitting on the community board and fighting for immigrant rights for more than two decades.
Now, with Peter Vallone Jr.'s City Council seat up for grabs, he hopes to take on the community's most pressing issues, including choking air pollution and businesses that have been crushed under a wave of tickets.
"I felt that I could do much more [as a councilman] then where I am now to help our community and to lead it for the future," he said.
Meloni, 56, an energetic activist easily recognizable by his white hair and mustache and radio announcer-like deep voice, is a product of the local schools and has been active in the community for 35 years.
"I'm very lucky I grew up here," Meloni said. "Astoria is a vibrant, beautiful community."
The Queens College graduate, who holds a degree in urban studies, has been the executive director of Immigration Advocacy Services on Steinway Street since 1988 and worked at Victim Services Agency, which helps victims of domestic violence.
He also served on Astoria’s community board for 25 years and was the public safety chairman there for 17 years.
Meloni, so far the only candidate running to replace Vallone, whose family has represented the neighborhood since 1974 and is being term-limited out of office, says Astoria's biggest issue is the environment.
Astoria, home to many power plants and traffic from LaGuardia Airport, Grand Central Parkway, and the Triboro and 59th Street bridges, struggles with pollution and bad air quality, Meloni said.
To get a handle on the problem, he proposes creating tax breaks for individuals and private companies to use solar panels, exchange old boilers or invest in more fuel-efficient cars.
"We should also be giving a lot of breaks to environmentally conscious companies so that then they can say, 'I’ll get a break on the tolls and perhaps in taxes, if I change my fleet and make it cleaner,'" he said.
Meloni said he also would encourage the city to replace diesel firetrucks and school buses.
Meloni — a father of two, whose wife Denise volunteers in the community and is active at Immaculate Conception Church in Astoria — also plans to take on what he says is the city's heavy ticketing of area businesses for health and safety violations.
"There are lots of small businesses and restaurants in the area," he said. "Everybody is trying to do the best they can, and we have to be careful that we don’t overburden them with too many regulations."
Calling Steinway Street "the most ticketed street in the city of New York," he envisions a "warning system," used in other parts of the state, where businesses in violation get a warning from an inspector who would come back later to see if the problem was fixed before issuing a ticket.
And Meloni, who founded a crime-prevention group 12 years ago and has organized self-defense courses, hopes to help increase public safety after a recent spike in thefts of high-value electronic items.
"People are walking down a street and getting their cell phone snatched while they are talking," he said.
With crime inching up — major crime in the 114th Precinct is up nearly 5 percent this year through May 6 — the interest in his self-defense classes has increased significantly, he said.
His overall goal, he said, is to keep Astoria "an active, vibrant, family area."
While he's a neighborhood stalwart, Meloni said he and his family considered moving out when real estate prices began skyrocketing in the '90s.
Then they went on what they thought would be one of their last walks in Astoria Park.
"On our way back, we were stopped and greeted by so many people from all generations who just wanted to say ‘hello,’ and chat with us," he said. "That felt so warm. That’s what makes a family. You can’t put a price on it."