NEW YORK CITY — City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and her foes traded barbs late this week after the mayoral hopeful was criticized for saying those opposed to the East 91st Street Marine Transfer Station were guilty of fostering "environmental racism."
The controversy reached a boiling point when fellow mayoral candidate Bill Thompson, who is black, accused Quinn, who is white, of directing the comment at him after he said he no longer supported the planned trash project, calling it "a bad site," according to Capital New York.
Quinn made the controversial comments at an unrelated press conference on Thursday, responding to Thompson's opposition of the trash station by saying, "The days of environmental racism have come to an end."
That prompted Thompson's campaign to reply that Quinn "had the audacity to call Bill Thompson an 'environmental racist.'"
The fray over the Upper East Side trash station has been going on for months, with opponents saying the project — part of the city's long-term sanitation plan — will bring vermin, noise and a host of health and traffic-safety concerns to the neighborhood. Supporters, including Quinn, say the station would help more evenly spread the burden of trash collection among all of the city's residents.
Quinn's campaign defended her statements Friday, saying she was not targeting a specific person with her remarks.
“Let's be clear, Chris Quinn never called anyone an environmental racist and any suggestion otherwise is simply not true," Mike Morey, Quinn's campaign spokesman, said in a statement. "While some politicians are pandering on this issue to secure votes, Chris Quinn will not back down from requiring all communities, no matter how affluent they are, from doing their fair share.
"You're either for reducing asthma rates in low-income communities, getting trucks off the road, or you're not," he added. "This is a matter of environmental justice.”
However, Quinn's use of the term "environmental racism" was slammed by Pledge 2 Protect, a lobbying group that opposes the garbage station, which argued that it would unfairly burden the Upper East Side's diverse residents.
“Contrary to Speaker Quinn’s claims, a Pledge 2 Protect report found that 62 percent more minority residents live in in the immediate area of East 91st St than any other proposed marine transfer station (MTS) sites across the five boroughs," said Pledge President Kelly Nimmo-Guenther in a statement.
"While only one other site has any public housing units in the area (33), there are more than 1,100 public housing units within a quarter mile of the East 91st St. MTS.”
However, several politicians and an environmental justice advocate came out in support of Quinn, including Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo, who represents the South Bronx; City Councilwoman Inez E. Dickens, who represents Harlem; and State Sen. Gustavo Rivera, who represents The Bronx.
"It is deeply disappointing that after so many years of hard work and great efforts in trying to alleviate the unfair, disproportionate and adverse health burden that waste transfer stations have on families and children of color, that Bill Thompson would very conveniently, seek to upend our successes in order to gain votes," Arroyo said.
"We cannot, and should not expect our Latino and communities of color to continue to bear the brunt of these types of facilities, while affluent communities get a pass on doing their fair share," she added. "Shame on Thompson!"
The trash station has become a hot issue in the mayoral race, with Pledge 2 Protect vowing to make the issue a deal breaker by trying to keep any candidate who supports the project out of elected office.
Their warnings also come as several powerful political groups on the Upper East Side, such as the Lenox Hill Democrats and the East Side Democratic Club, have refused to endorse Quinn or any mayoral candidate because of their positions on the project.