ASTORIA — Costa Constantinides, a life-long Astoria resident and activist, got hooked on politics when he was a kid. Now, with Peter Vallone Jr.’s term-limited seat up for grabs, he wants to try his luck in the race to represent his neighborhood in the City Council.
Politics, he said, played an important role in his family and he got involved early on.
“I convinced everyone in my class to vote for Walter Mondale,” in 1984, laughed Constantinides, who was 8-years-old at that time.
But his parents had very different views on politics.
His father, an immigrant from Cyprus and a longtime vice-president at Bankers Trust, “was a [die-hard] Republican,” Constantinides said, and the two argued “politics ‘til the day he died.”
Constantinides, 37, who is currently a Democratic District Leader and serves as a deputy chief of staff to City Councilman Jim Gennaro, instead followed the political leanings of his mother, a liberal Democrat who was the president of the PTA at P.S. 84, which Constantinides attended. She was also in charge of the school district PTA presidents’ council.
When he was 16 in the early 90s, Constantinides rallied along with his mother at City Hall, chanting, “cuts to classrooms is a bad thing.”
“And yet here I am, more than 20 years later, saying the same thing,” he said.
Improving schools is his number one concern.
“For too long we had overcrowded schools. There shouldn’t be classrooms with 35 students in there,” he said, adding that children in at least five schools in Astoria still study in trailers parked in schools yards.
“They were meant to be temporary until we build new schools. But in some cases those trailers have been in schoolyards 10 years.”
And two new schools that have been planned for Astoria have never been built, he said.
Constantinides knows a thing or two about public schools, getting most of his education at city institutions, including Bryant High School.
He started getting serious about politics after the rally at City Hall when he went to a local Democratic club and said he wanted to get involved.
At that time, Richard Brown was running for District Attorney and Constantinides ended up handing out flyers to support him.
Modest beginnings led him to become the president of Queens Young Democrats, and in 2009 he was elected Democratic District Leader for the 36th Assembly District. Now, he says he is ready to run for the City Council and has recently been endorsed by the Working Families Party.
In the past, Constantinides worked as the legislative director for Brooklyn Councilwoman Darlene Mealy and he currently works for councilmember Jim Gennaro, chairman of the Council’s Committee on Environmental Protection.
Having worked on many environmental issues, he says he wants to clean-up Astoria’s parks, create more open space and reduce air pollution by calling on the neighborhood’s power plants “to either clean up their acts or be dismantled.”
He has been involved in a number of local issues over the years, including helping to save the post office on 30th Avenue slated for closure last year, and getting a speed bump on 21st Avenue after a resident was killed there in 2009.
“Everything that’s great that has ever happened to me is here,” he said about Astoria. A father of a 3-year old son, Nicholas, he said he met his wife, Lori, in the neighborhood. At that time, she worked with his sister at a local shoe store.
His wife, he said, is a kidney and pancreas transplant patient, which made him aware of many healthcare issues.
“We need a better access to healthcare here in Western Queens,” he said, adding that Queens had lost four hospitals in the last four years: Parkway Hospital, Mary Immaculate, St. John’s and Peninsula. “We need more hospital beds here in Astoria,” he noted, adding that he supports the expansion of Mt. Sinai Hospital, the only hospital in the neighborhood, especially now, when “Astoria is growing.”
But the growth, he said, also drives real estate prices up, pushing out some longtime residents. One of his sisters, who worked as a teacher, couldn’t afford a house in the neighborhood and decided to move to Florida a couple of years ago, he said.
“I’ll be fighting to make sure that Astoria stays affordable,” he said. “And to make sure that it can be a neighborhood and a destination for families for another generation.”