eye on politics
The final vote on the new City Council district lines is set for next Wednesday. It is widely accepted that no further changes will be made from the plan presented to the council last week, which won the approval of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Council Speaker Gifford Miller.
Under the soon-to-be final new lines, the only major change from the old lines appears to have been in Councilmember Tony Avella’s district in northeast Queens, which was probably a payback to Avella for being among three Queens lawmakers who angered the mayor by voting "no" on the 18.5 percent real estate tax.
Reportedly, Avella’s district’s lines were changed to increase the number of Republicans in his new district from 23 percent to 28 percent.
That seems hardly enough to cause Avella any qualms as he looks forward to running for re-election to another two-year term this November. That’s the impression we got when we discussed the situation with him last week.
Avella (D-Bayside) said the new portion of his district includes Auburndale, Douglaston and Little Neck, all of which were removed from Councilmember David Weprin’s district, which borders Avella’s on the east. Avella said Weprin lost these areas in the last election and he (Avella) considers them to be "either Republican or conservative Democrat areas."
Since he considers himself a conservative Democrat, he said, "I don’t think I’ll have any kind of a serious problem there or anywhere else in the district." In fact, he added, the voters in the predominantly homeowner area, who were hit hard by the real estate tax increase, "will appreciate the fact that I voted against it."
Avella said he plans to go door-to-door in the new enclave to meet his new constituents personally, "just as I did in my district during the last election campaign." Avella withstood a multiple challenge in the 2001 Democratic primary and won easily in the general election.
In voting "no" on the real estate tax increase, Avella had also incurred Speaker Miller’s wrath. Last Wednesday was payback time for Miller. He removed Avella from his Rules, Privileges, and Elections committee post, but allowed him to retain his chairmanship of the important Zoning and Franchises committee. Avella later voted for the committee changes sponsored by Miller, which were easily approved.
BEG PARDON: To keep the record straight, Avella did not attend the dinner which the mayor hosted for councilmembers in January at which Council Minority Leader James Oddo, a Staten Island Republican, staged a walkout when the mayor criticized those who voted against his real estate tax increase. We had reported Avella was there.
PATAKI BASHED IN POLL: Bad economic times and stringent budgets tend to drag down a governor’s performance popularity, as was shown by the recent Quinnipiac University poll. Governor George Pataki’s proposed budget, which includes huge cuts to schools and in Medicaid, tuition increases at SUNY and CUNY, and some tax increases, dragged his performance rating down some 13 points, from 62 percent to 49 percent, his lowest level in seven years.
WEINER SKEWERS BUSH: In a talk to seniors at the Austin Street Senior Center in Forest Park last Friday, Congressmember Anthony Weiner (D–Queens/Brooklyn) said President George W. Bush’s plan for prescription drug benefits would not cover many seniors and would give coverage only to those who opted for HMO membership.
Weiner said he also told them, "It’s hard to believe in this economy that the president still supports reforming Social Security by allowing some members to invest some of their contributions to Social Security in the stock market," said Weiner.
Another topic he discussed, Weiner said, was pedestrian safety, not only on Queens Boulevard but all over the county and city, especially on improving safety in crosswalks.
NEW SIDEWALK CAFE REGS: A bill to streamline sidewalk cafe applications, increase fees for them and improve administration of the cafes by placing them under the Consumer Affairs Department was signed into law by Mayor Bloomberg last week. among the sponsors were Councilmembers Melinda Katz (D–Forest Hills), Tony Avella (D–Bayside) and David Weprin (D–Hollis). All attended the bill signing.
Katz said the law simplifies the application process, reducing the time for permit approval from as long as 11 months to about three months.
Avella said he had helped to formulate the legislation as chairman of the Zoning and Franchises committee. Stressing the strong public interest in sidewalk cafes, he said, "As land use issues go, these cafes may seem like a minor matter, but to the communities in which the cafes are located the cafes become a major quality of life issue." Commenting on the bill, he said, "Best of all, it will give Consumer Affairs significant tools in its enforcement efforts against illegal sidewalk cafes, while making it easier for cafes to become properly licensed."
CROWLEY, WEINER APPOINTMENTS: Congressmember Anthony Weiner has been appointed to the joint Senate–House committee investigating the Columbia shuttle disaster and Congressmember Joseph Crowley has won a seat on the new Subcommittee on International Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Human Rights.
Weiner pledged himself to work for continuation of the space program, but said, "We need to end the use of the shuttle and its brilliant astronauts as couriers for building supplies and satellites." The Shuttle, he said has become "a glorified UPS truck."
Crowley said, "I hope to play a big part in fighting and preventing terrorism by monitoring events happening around the world."
LIU: GO SLOW ON FARE HIKE: Following a meeting with MTA Chairman Peter Kalikow last week, Council transportation committee Chairman John Liu (D–Flushing) urged Kalikow to proceed cautiously on voting to raise fares.
"I am very concerned, that the MTA board may vote to approve a fare hike even before the MTA’s 2002 financial data become available," Liu said.
"A vote on this matter, which will severely affect millions of working New Yorkers, must be based on complete, accurate and up-to-date information, and I urge the MTA to delay their vote on raising fares until they can make a completely informed decision."
MARKEY GETS TRAFFIC STUDY: After talking with Department of Traffic Commissioner Iris Weinshall, Assemblymember Margaret Markey was informed that her request for a study of the very busy intersection at Grand Avenue, 69th Street, and the Long Island Expressway in Maspeth had been granted.
The 12-week study, Markey said, should produce a variety of safety control options that the intersection control unit will evaluate and determine the most suitable. Markey said the intersection has been plagued by accidents, congested traffic and several unfortunate fatalities over the years.
GET WELL NOTE: Councilmember Dennis Gallagher (R–C, Middle Village) underwent minor heart surgery on Thursday February 13 at St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn. He reports to that he is recuperating nicely. Gallagher has The Gazette’s best wishes to get well. We’re sure our readers feel the same way.