Councilmanic Report Card
A resolution is expected to be introduced today in the City Council to turn over the function of naming streets to community boards, thus relieving councilmembers of a duty which has brought them constant ridicule, criticism and derision over the years, and freeing them up to deal with more substantive and crucial matters, such as the budget.
If nothing else sets the new Council, now only 58 days old, apart from its predecessors, this would be enough.
However, this "New Faces of 2002" Council, the first elected under term limits, already seems to be performing well enough to allay fears expressed before it was assembled that its inexperience would unleash chaos upon us.
Of course, its first and major test—dealing with the $41.4 billion budget proposed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which has a $4.7 billion deficit—lies ahead of it. But we think it will be equal to this task as well as to others which will follow, judging from the performance of the Queens delegation thus far.
Bloomberg’s budget was generally received with thoughtful consideration, evincing a cooperative spirit in dealing with major problems while offering reasonable changes.
Councilmembers David Weprin (D–Hollis) and Melinda Katz (D–Forest Hills) took this approach. Weprin, who will play a key role in hacking out a budget as the Council Finance chairman, agreed with the mayor’s "no lay-off policy... minor cuts for police and fire departments" and a long-term borrowing program rather than raising taxes.
On the other hand, he expressed concern at cuts in senior citizen programs, as well as for schools and libraries.
Katz, a former Assemblymember who has been through several budget wars, also was cognizant of the difficult choices faced by Bloomberg and the council due to September 11 and the recession, but offered to work with him in addressing the problems, beginning with seeking more state and federal dollars. But Katz, like Weprin, declared that cuts in allocation for seniors, schools and libraries among other areas of the budget, will require longer, more thorough examination.
Addressing the city’s budget woes from another perspective, Weprin and Councilmembers Hiram Monserrate (D–Corona) and John Liu (D–Flushing) called on the mayor to implement an economic stimulus plan by aggressively tapping existing state and federal programs which could place $769 million in the hands of low-income families, spending which will give the economy a boost.
Other than the budget, lawmakers have taken steps on other important issues, both at City Hall and in their districts.
Last week, Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. (D–Astoria), chairman of the Public Safety committee, initiated an examination of one of the city’s most urgent and far-reaching needs—Police Department anti-terrorist readiness.
"Despite the budget gap, public safety remains the city’s number one priority," Vallone declared, a judgement the Gazette heartily agrees with.
As one of this first actions as Zoning and Franchises subcommittee chair, Councilmember Tony Avella (D–Bayside) approved a zoning change that will curb overdevelopment in some new residential projects by requiring ample street and roadway amenities. Avella has also addressed problems within his district, one of which is his opposition to construction of a synagogue in Bayside as inappropriate for the area where it was proposed.
Keeping a campaign promise, Councilmember Eric Gioia (D–Woodside) since taking office has been visiting a different school each week as part of a program to visit every school in Woodside, Sunnyside, Long Island City and Maspeth to observe conditions first hand and to talk with principals and teachers about solving problems and improving student performance. As he said during the campaign, "Education is my number one priority," and it’s refreshing to see a campaign promise fulfilled.
Visits of a different kind have been undertaken by Councilmember John Liu (D–Flushing), who has been holding district office hours at libraries throughout his district to make himself more accessible to his constituents while his district office is being renovated.
Councilmember Denis Gallagher, the only Republican in the Queens delegation, has introduced a bill to keep a close check on how city dollars granted to not-for-profit organization are being spent. "With city agencies’ budgets being cut, we’ve got to be sure these organizations are spending city dollars where they’re supposed to be spent," Gallagher (R–C, Middle Village), declared.
Bloomberg’s plans to scuttle the city’s garbage recycling program will surely be scrutinized by Councilmember James Gennaro and his Environmental Protection Committee, which oversees all Sanitation Department operations.
This brief report card on our Queens Councilmembers’ performance in office during their first two months rates all of them an "A" for effort. But we’ll be continuing to observe them and to report our findings to their constituents, our readers.