Photo Credit: Marc Gronich
Attendees gather and schmooze before the speechifying begins at the QJCC Legislative Breakfast.

A billionaire, a major retirement announcement and a new memorial planned for a New York City borough highlighted the Queens Jewish Community Council’s legislative breakfast. A cheering standing-room-only crowd of city, county and state legislators as well as community leaders broke bagels and lox to hear the news.

Rendering of the Holocaust Memorial planned for the front of Queens Borough Hall.

Three of the seven state senators from Queens attended the fête, 11 of the 18 members of the Queens Assembly delegation attended, and seven of the 14 New York City councilmembers from Queens showed up. Congresswoman Grace Meng also made an appearance.


The Queens Jewish Community Council, which has ties and working relationships with all the major non-profit organizations in the borough, drew a crowd of more than 250 people from as far away as Manalapan, N.J., and all points within the borough.

With a population of more than 2.4 million people as of the 2020 census, Queens is the second-most populous county in New York state, behind Kings County (Brooklyn). Queens is the fourth most densely populated borough in New York City. About 47 percent of its residents are foreign-born. Queens is also the most linguistically diverse place on Earth and is one of the most ethnically diverse counties in the United States.

Willets Point, with limited infrastructure and a history of environmental degradation, the neighborhood is located within the 100-year flood plain. The city has been working with community partners to reimagine Willets Point in ways that would create new opportunities for residents and businesses. Developers maintain Willets Point could serve the nearby neighborhoods by providing spaces for schools and delivering on much-needed affordable housing, jobs and recreational needs.

Fervent Mets fan Alan Sherman, a Flushing resident, poses for picture with N.Y. Mets owner Steve Cohen.

Given these statistics, New York Mets owner Steve Cohen sees a prime opportunity for a new venture that would coincide with the plans by city officials to redevelop the neighborhood. He wants to purchase land near Citi Field to build a casino and create a community experience. Cohen is the billionaire founder of Stamford, Connecticut-based Point72 Asset Management. It has been reported that his New Green Willets, LLC has spent more than $300,000 lobbying the state legislature on casino-related issues.

At the breakfast, Cohen spoke about his vision for the area that is strewn with auto repair shops.

“People complain there is nothing to do there. I say that’s not true,” Cohen said with tongue firmly planted in cheek. “You can get your tire fixed and your muffler redone. So, there are things to do.”

Then there were serious points about a listening tour of sorts throughout the Borough of Queens to hear how residents want him to send some of those billions he’s managed to accumulate.

Mets fan Michael Sternbach of Bayside, Queens, meets Steve Cohen for the first time.

“A lot of people here know about the project we’re planning on 50 acres of asphalt. I really appreciate all the input,” Cohen said. “I’ll take a good idea from anybody. We’ve heard great ideas. We heard about high-speed ferries and connecting the waterfront to Flushing Meadow Park to community facilities within the 50 acres. We’re listening. This isn’t about me. It’s about the community and creating something we can all be proud of. We’ll see if we get there or not. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I think the community is going to love it. I think it’s going to be a place where people can come, enjoy themselves, and I’ve listened to the fans. The fans want something to do before the game and after the game.”

Then, with Cohen by his side, Michael Nussbaum, president of the QJCC, made a pitch for money to complete a building project by handing out Yom Kippur-style appeal envelopes. He asked attendees, who attended at no charge, to give to the completion of a new building at 6969 Main Street in the Flushing and Kew Gardens Hills neighborhoods.

“We were able to secure, a few years ago, a grant from DASNY [Dormitory of the State of New York] for $500,000,” Nussbaum explained. “Many state agencies are happy to give but the organization has to match. We did match it with money from Jay Ivler (president of the Glendale, NY-based Mount Lebanon Cemetery and QJCC Board member), which gave us the ability to continue and complete the building.”

That’s not all there is to getting a building operational.

Rabbi Eli Blokh, director of the Rego Park Chabad, offers NY Mets owner Steve Cohen the chance to fulfill the mitzvah of putting on tefillin. Cohen politely refuses.

“The Queens Jewish community is in great shape. I’m proud of the work that the staff and Mayer [Waxman, executive director of the QJCC] are going to continue,” Nussbaum said. “I expect the building to be done and I will remain as president until it’s done. Today we’re nearing the completion of that building. We’re drawing down the last of the capital money but there are other needs for that building.

“When that ribbon is cut, I will hope to feel that we were able to accomplish something. We’re very grateful for the support we have gotten from the state.

“The new building will have offices, a conference room. This thing will be done. You can take the envelope home. Use our website to make a donation. We deeply appreciate what we get from our government partners, from the Assembly, the state Senate and certainly the City Council but we need private funding as well as individual funding to do what we can to finish the building, furnish the building to service the people of Queens,” Nussbaum concluded.

Then Nussbaum revealed some news that drew gasps from the audience.

“I believe it is time for new leadership. I have to move on. I plan to make this my last legislative breakfast as president,” Nussbaum said. “You need to look forward to bringing a new generation of leaders into the Queens Jewish Community Council. You need to have other people to be involved. I’m still a member of the JCRC [Jewish Community Relations Council] and I will remain an active board member of the Queens Jewish Community Council.”

The program dovetailed with remarks from Queens Borough President Donovan Richards and a special announcement about building a Holocaust memorial at Queens Borough Hall. Richards thought this would be the first such memorial in the borough but he was quickly corrected by Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Hollis, Queens) in the following exchange:

Richards: “Community and elected officials had a meeting about a month ago to pitch the idea of creating a Holocaust memorial in Queens. We don’t have one.”

Weprin: “There’s one at Queensboro Community College.”

Richards: “There’s one here on the campus. We are going to build one at Queens Borough Hall. When we say we will never forget in Queens County, we mean it. The designer has ties to Ukraine. We look forward to working with the QJCC to make sure that this comes to fruition.”

Nussbaum: “There’s only one place the Holocaust memorial could be and that is in front of Borough Hall and not hidden away in a park. The old train tracks from a now-defunct number 7 line are still in place. So, the memorial will be created using the train tracks going through two pillars. We’re going to raise the money and we have pledges already to complete this. We will finance it all privately and all it requires is for the city to donate the land. This memorial will be for everyone.”

The theme for the memorial is going to be “As a remembrance of the past and as a hope for the future,” Nussbaum said.

“We will continue to stand against all forms of hate and we must never, ever, let it fester or be complicit, no matter who it is when it comes to antisemitism,” Richards said.

Also in attendance were Lt. Governor Antonio Delgado, Attorney General Letitia James, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz and representatives from Mayor Eric Adams’ office, the governor’s liaison to the Jewish community, Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, the executive vice president of The New York Board of Rabbis, and Israel Consul General Asaf Zamir, who made the point, “Sometimes when antisemitic killings happen in Israel some people think it’s not just for that reason. But it is just for that reason. There is no difference between Jew-hatred and violence towards Jews when it is in Israel and when it is here.”

The portion of the program that included speeches from all these dignitaries lasted more than an hour and 40 minutes.

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Marc Gronich is the owner and news director of Statewide News Service. He has been covering government and politics for 44 years, since the administration of Hugh Carey. He is an award-winning journalist. His Albany Beat column appears monthly in The Jewish Press and his coverage about how Jewish life intersects with the happenings at the state Capitol appear weekly in the newspaper. You can reach Mr. Gronich at [email protected].