State Of Boro Address
Outlining her agenda for 2003, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall indicated this morning in her first State of the Borough address that education and youth development are top priorities on her list.
In her 10 a.m. address at Colden Center on the Queens College campus before a large audience which included Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Astoria-based singer Tony Bennett, Marshall also called for a police substation to be built in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park, a new ferry service for the Rockaways, and changes at Borough Hall to make the seat of borough government more user friendly.
Paying tribute to Mayor Bloomberg as "a man who sincerely cares about the children of this city," Marshall described his recent new education plan as a major change. And although Bennett ranks as a preeminent pop vocalist of his time, it was his role as a friend of education that she cited in her speech. Bennett has been a moving force behind the establishment and construction of the Frank Sinatra High School for the Performing Arts in Astoria.
Referring to it as an example of public–private partnerships she will continue to encourage, Marshall predicted that with Bennett’s support, the Sinatra school will become the finest performing arts school in the country.
Declaring, "Our society will ultimately be judged on how we educate our young," Marshall, a former teacher, vowed to continue the fight for new school construction and to empower parents in the education of their children.
Her vehicle for parent involvement will be the Parent Institute which, she said, will give parents the knowledge and skills they need to become effective stakeholders in their children’s education.
Hailing her predeccessor. Claire Shulman for understanding that a seat for every child was imperative, Marshall said she still uses the War Room concept created by Shulman to keep a focus on and track school construction.
This past year, she related, she cut the ribbon on two new schools, I.S. 137 and P.S. 58, thus adding 2,000 new school seats. During this year, she expects to see the opening of eight new schools and three additions, adding more than 9,000 seats.
But, she cautioned, "While we are making progress, we are still woefully short and need many thousands more [school seats]."
One special project she’s looking forward to, she said, is relocating the Gateway to Health Sciences School to a new facility on the campus of the Queens Hospital Center in Jamaica. Students at the school will train for careers in the medical field.
Marshall, saying she will continue efforts to form public–private programs for education, cited the "beautiful partnership" formed with Bennett. She said in a meeting with Bennett and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein to discuss development of the Sinatra School and Bennett committed to helping raise the monies to build a first-class facility.
Marshall stated, "Mr. Bennett clearly values the need for specialized performing arts education and will be working with noted architect James Polshek to ensure that the studios and the sound systems will be state-of-the-art."
She added, "I cannot say enough about Mr. Bennett’s dedication, commitment and vision and I wish to publically acknowledge all of his help. He has been instrumental in every aspect of this wonderful project."
Touching on the mayor’s recently announced major revamping of school curriculums and other far-reaching changes in education, Marshall said she was glad the plan stressed parental involment. Her work as a parent activist launched her public service career, and Marshall stated, "There is still a need for a formal role for parents in the education of their children."
Marshall also spoke of expanded youth programs, including those in public housing developments, where she is working to establish mentor and Scouting programs. To emphasize this subject, she singled out for praise Eagle Scout Jonathan Grassi of Howard Beach for signing up hundreds of organ donors after his aunt received a kidney from her brother.
Marshall’s future plans include making changes at Borough Hall in Kew Gardens. "Providing opportunities and services to the people is the responsibility of government," she declared as an opening to describing the changes.
Soon, she said, the Department of Buildings will occupy newly renovated space at Borough Hall. The Queens Office of City Planning has already moved in and an information booth will soon be placed in the building lobby. Other new lobby accoutrements include new display cases to showcase the cultures and heritage of Queens residents, she said.
"I want Borough Hall to be as open and accessible as possible," she summed up.
Marshall said she has urged the mayor and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly to establish a substation in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park, which was recently the scene of a gang rape, an investigation of which revealed that a number of homeless had taken up residence in shanties in the huge park.
She took the occasion to praise the work of Police Officer Kim Flechaus, of the Police Department Canine Unit, and her partner, eight-year-old Sean who played a key role in capturing the park rapists. Both were present and Sean was awarded a bone for his exemplary effort.
In her freshman year at the borough’s helm, Marshall also established a Rockaway Task Force to try to accelerate development of the peninsula.
A key element in that development, she feels, will be new ferry service to and from Rockaway and she vowed that she will be on hand to greet it along with Councilmember Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D–Ozone Park), the area’s representative and a strong advocate of the ferry.
"Before leaving the City Council," Marshall recalled, "we appropriated $300,000 to subsidize the fare for ferry service, lowering it from $15 to $5."
Her plans for the future, she said, include a Queens General Assembly that will bring together community leaders of different backgrounds to learn each other’s cultures while addressing common concerns. Members of the Assembly Advisory Committee were in the audience.
Marshall explained, "I have charged the Assembly with the task of making our borough an even more harmonious place. They will achieve this by sharing experiences and knowledge on many topics, including historical perspectives, customs, education and, of course, cultural sensibilities."
Among the achievements she cited during her first year in office were her major role in helping to settle a private bus strike in the borough and defusing the issue, the ongoing cleanup along Queens Boulevard, and providing more than 300 infants and small children with car seats through her unique Traffic Safety Board, and expanding the borough’s Domestic Violence Task Force to include efforts to combat child and senior abuse.
Also in 2002, Marshall said, four new schools and seven additions opened in the borough, ground was broken for 2,000 new homes in Arverne by the Sea in the Rockaways, and the New York City Partnership constructed 200 new, affordable homes in the borough. She said she looks forward to working with the mayor on his affordable housing program.
On economic development, the borough president noted the ongoing expansion of the Queens Center Mall in Elmhurst, the opening of a new multiplex in Jamaica, the first in a generation, the continued progress of the Queens West development on the Long Island City waterfront, ongoing plans to develop Willets Point and the move into Long Island City of the MetLife Insurance Company and other firms as that area of the borough continues to gain prominence.
Marshall concluded her heroes address by honoring "two personal heroes," Clarence Irving and Julius Edelstein.
Irving, 89, coordinated youth activities in housing projects during the administration of Mayor John Lindsay and in 1984 founded the Black Heritage Foundation.
Edelstein, a former reporter who later had a distinguished government service career, retired from the City University of New York as Senior Vice Chancellor Emeritus. He continues as an advocate for public higher education and was the subject of the 2003 LaGuardia Community College calendar.