CITY MOURNS MCCAFFREY
Woodside Legislator, 64, ‘Devoted’ To Duty
“A great New Yorker,” “a teacher and a mentor” and “a devoted public servant” were some of the terms used by elected officials and community advocates to describe former City Council Member Walter McCaffrey of Woodside, who died last Wednesday, July 10, of health issues aggravated by injuries he sustained in a car accident earlier this year.
The 64-year-old McCaffrey served in the City Council between 1985 and 2001 and came to be known as one of the legislature’s most dynamic debaters and a strong advocate for his constituents. He represented portions of several western Queens neighborhoods in the 26th Council District including Maspeth, Woodside, Sunnyside, Astoria and Long Island City.
In his 16 years in the City Council, McCaffrey fought diligently to bring essential services to his district and resolve various quality-of-life problems, from fire and police protection to installing traffic control devices such as red light cameras to stop speeders and pedestrian fatalities along Queens Boulevard.
McCaffrey also provided funding to erect a new public library in Long Island City and establish the Borden Avenue Veterans Shelter—the first of its kind in the five boroughs to house homeless veterans. He was also instrumental in setting up a program to prevent troubled police officers from committing suicide.
The lawmaker also had a keen eye on consumer protection, and he authored legislation to ban illegal billboards, restrict ATM surcharge fees and mandate security cameras be installed at ATMs. He also sponsored legislation to prohibit strip clubs and other adult establishments from setting up shop near local schools and middle-class communities.
McCaffrey also provided support to Woodside on the Move and Sunnyside Community Services, two organizations which offer an array of programs for residents of all ages in their respective neighborhoods. His support continues even after his death, as his family requested donations be made to both non-profit groups in lieu of flowers (see information at the end of this article).
“He was a champion for the diverse, working class neighborhoods he represented and was deeply re- spected and revered by everyone who worked and served with him,” the City Council obituary noted.
One sign of the reverence city officials had for McCaffrey was demonstrated last Wednesday, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered all flags on city buildings to be lowered to half-staff through Monday, July 15, in tribute to the late lawmaker.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn stated McCaffrey “was a devoted public servant” who “supported efforts to improve the quality of life for constituents of his district and New Yorkers across the five boroughs.”
“Walter was thoughtful and smart, he could work with anyone on any issue,” Quinn said. “He was respected by everyone for his ability to grasp complicated issues and work to find areas of common ground.”
Community Board 2 Chairperson Joseph Conley praised McCaffrey as “a great New Yorker, an advocate for all [and] a dear friend who will be missed for his wisdom, advise and humor.”
“Walter accomplished so much for so many in our community and our city,” Conley said. “As he said so often, he was a Woodside resident by choice and he was honored to serve the community of the 26th Council District. Walter was a strong voice and advocate for all.”
City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, who now holds the seat Mc- Caffrey once occupied, praised him as “one of the smartest and most clever elected officials in the history of western Queens.”
“Walter knew politics and the district better than just about anyone. He knew how to run campaigns and also navigate the hands of government with great intelligence and deftness,” Van Bramer said. “On a personal level Walter was very generous with suggestions and advice ever since I became the Council member, and I am enormously proud to have celebrated the Boulevard of Bravery in Woodside which was one of Walter’s last legislative accomplishments in office. Together we renamed that portion of Queens Boulevard in honor of fire fighters who died on 9/11.”
The Boulevard of Bravery is located on Queens Boulevard in front of the headquarters of Rescue 4 and Engine Co. 292.
Also offering praise was Rep. Joseph Crowley, whom McCaffrey unsuccessfully attempted to challenge for his Congressional seat in 2008. Crowley called the late lawmaker “a good friend” who “will long be remembered for his dedication to public service and his profound commitment to improving the lives of the people of Queens.”
A lifetime of service
A Woodsider through and through, McCaffrey was born on Jan. 28, 1949 to the late Walter and Marie McCaffrey, both of whom emigrated to the city from Ireland. The younger Walter McCaffrey eventually graduated from Msgr. McClancy Memorial High School in East Elmhurst and Iona College in New Rochelle.
Following his collegiate career, McCaffrey became involved in the Queens County Democratic Party and eventually became chief-of-staff to then-Manhattan Borough President Andrew Stein and, later, Rep. Thomas Manton.
McCaffrey was also elected as chairperson of Community Board 2, where he honed his craft of championing community issues prior to being elected to the City Council in 1985.
As a City Council member, Mc- Caffrey became known not only for his debating skills and humor but also the ability to broker deals on legislation and programs designed to improve the city. He chaired the Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee and worked to protect and enhance the city’s “rich and complex land use integrity and history,” according to the City Council obituary.
To that end, he helped rezone 37 blocks of Long Island City bounded by 23rd Street, 41st Avenue and Sunnyside Yards in 2001 to encourage greater commercial development in the neighborhood to replace stagnant, vacant industrial buildings.
Over the years, he also served on the City Council’s Land Use, Finance, Public Safety and Transportation committees. His influence on all four panels helped bring additional services and programs to his district.
Like other City Council members, McCaffrey brought home the bacon in funding to improve local parks and other venues. He provided $200,000 to renovate Doughboy Park in Woodside in 2000 and additional funds to renovate Sabba Park at the corner of Queens Boulevard and 50th Street in Woodside.
McCaffrey also procured funding for the purchase of a mobile command unit for NYPD Patrol Borough Queens North.
In an effort to slow down traffic and reduce pedestrian fatalities on what was dubbed the “Boulevard of Death,” McCaffrey procured $600,000 to reconstruct the medians of Queens Boulevard between 58th and 63rd streets. The improvements included new planters, concrete barriers and wrought iron fencing designed to discourage jaywalkers.
Attempted a Congressional bid
Toward the end of his fourth term, McCaffrey sought to make a move to Washington, D.C. and announced his intent to challenge Congressman Crowley in the 2000 election for the seat previously held by Manton.
Manton, the Queens Democratic Party leader who was first elected to Congress in 1984, suddenly announced his retirement in July 1998. Since his decision came too late to prepare for a primary, Manton chose Crowley—then an assemblyman— to take his place on the ballot.
The move caused dissent among the ranks in the party, and McCaffrey was seen by many as a worthy alternative to Crowley. The City Council member announced his candidacy for Congress in February 2000, telling The New York Times, “It’s going to be a tough race, but I think it’s a doable race. ... There are issues where there is a marked contrast between Joe and myself. And it will come down to who has the better legislative record on behalf of the constituents.”
But questions about how McCaffrey used campaign funds forced the lawmaker to withdraw from the race in July. Published reports indicated that McCaffrey had written $54,000 in checks to himself, which he claimed were used to pay for weekly car service.
“Questions about my financial filings and difficulties in raising sufficient funds have cast a cloud over the campaign,” McCaffrey stated in a New York Times article. “While I have done nothing wrong, I realize that I cannot conduct a difficult race with these issues unresolved.”
McCaffrey ultimately threw his support to Crowley, who eventually went on to succeed Manton—who died in July 2006—as Queens Democratic Party chair.
The City Council member’s political career came to an end on New Year’s Eve 2001, when his fourth and final term expired; McCaffrey was one of the first 35 City Council members to be term-limited out of office. Eric Gioia took McCaffrey’s place in the 26th Council District, holding the seat until he was term-limited in 2009 and succeeded by Van Bramer.
Following his service in the City Council, McCaffrey remained active in city politics by launching his own lobbying firm, The McCaffrey Group Ltd. The organization played an influential role in opposing the congestion pricing plan—which would have instituted a surcharge on traffic heading into much of Manhattan—proposed by Mayor Bloomberg in the mid-2000s.
It was also noted that McCaffrey and his firm supported policies to encourage greater opportunities for minority and women-owned business enterprises (MWBE) to obtain city contracts.
State Sen. Michael Gianaris remarked that McCaffrey’s “intelligence and pleasant demeanor made him both effective and a pleasure to work with.”
Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan considered McCaffrey as “a teacher and mentor who always gave me his support, particularly his many kindnesses when I began my own political career.”
“Walter’s service as our community board chairman and our councilman was outstanding, particularly his work on parks, and his support for Sunnyside Community Services and our seniors was very successful and his work for so many organizations in our neighborhood will always be a fine tribute to his memory,” Nolan added.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, echoed those sentiments, adding that McCaffrey “dedicated [himself] to qualityof life issues in his community and focused on more comprehensive topics like consumer protection.”
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer remembered McCaffrey as “a respected, hardworking public servant” who “loved politics and loved people.”
“He fought hard to protect the residential neighborhoods of his district and the working people who live in them,” Stringer added.
A wake for McCaffrey was held on Sunday, July 14, at Edward D. Lynch Funeral Home in Sunnyside, and a Mass of Christian Burial was offered on Monday, July 15, at St. Sebastian Church in Woodside. He was interred at St. Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx.
Those wishing to remember Mc- Caffrey can mail donations to Sunnyside Community Services, 43-31 39th St., Sunnyside, NY 11104; and/or Woodside on the Move, 39-42 59th St., Second Floor, Woodside, NY 11377.