2003-03-26 / Political Page

eye on politics

Queens Councilmember May Have Shot At Speaker
By John Toscano
eye on politics By John Toscano Queens Councilmember May Have Shot At Speaker’s Post


A decision by a state Supreme Court Justice last week which, if upheld, would end City Council Speaker Gifford Miller’s career as a councilmember and his brief reign as Speaker at the end of this year, has started wheels turning in the minds of several councilmembers interested in grabbing the Speaker’s post next January.

But most are doing their planning anonymously and quietly, lest they incur Miller’s wrath for the rest of the year—and beyond if the judge’s ruling is overturned and Miller is re-elected to the council and the Speakers job next year.

But the ruling against Miller, who was elected Speaker in 2002, and five other councilmembers, has raised the prospect that the Speaker’s post could be returned to Queens, where it was held by former Speaker Peter Vallone for 16 years.

Interestingly, it’s possible the former Speaker’s son, Peter Jr., who succeeded his father in the council, might also succeed him as Speaker if he decides to seek the powerful post.

However, neither Vallone Jr. nor any other Democratic councilmember, including any of the 13 from Queens, has announced openly that he or she is a candidate for the job if Miller cannot run for a new two-year term this year.

In fact, Vallone Jr. emphatically denied he was seeking to replace Miller in the Speaker’s chair. "It is important for New York City that Gifford Miller be re-elected Speaker in 2003, as we face these trying times. I was one of the speaker’s earliest supporters and I fully support him now," Vallone Jr. declared.

But in the excitement that greeted the anti-Miller decision last Wednesday several Queens councilmembers’ names have appeared in stories regarding possible successors or should be in that grouping in our estimation.

The list includes, alphabetically, Councilmember Leroy Comrie (Jamaica), the Majority Whip; Melinda Katz (Forest Hills), Vallone Jr. (Astoria) Public Safety Committee chair, and David Weprin (Hollis), chair of the powerful Finance Committee. And a statement made by Councilmember Eric Gioia (Woodside) indicates he would have to be included as a possible candidate.

Gioia stated: "You have a body of 51 politicians and everyone of them thinks he or she can become Speaker. And each one has a rationale that would explain why he or she would be the best choice for Speaker."

Keep in mind, however, that virtually every council incumbent, and definitely all of those from Queens, is up for re-election this year and must win re-election to pursue other plans in the council.

Also keep in mind that it takes 26 councilmembers’ votes to elect the Speaker, and the Queens delegation, with 13 votes, is in a solid position to wheel and deal on behalf of anyone behind whom the members coalesce as the borough’s candidate.

In the court case ruling, Justice Gerard H. Rosenberg in Brooklyn held that the council exceeded its authority by amending the term limits law to allow Miller and five others to run for and serve two more years in office.

Ravi Barta, one of the lawyers who brought the case, maintained that any change to the term limits law required a voter referendum to change the City Charter.

Council officials, however, said the law changing term limits was enacted to correct a condition in the City Charter that shortened some terms to two years instead of four years. Thus some councilmembers would serve only six years rather than the eight years constituting two terms mandated under the Term Limits Law.

Miller and the others councilmembers have appealed Rosenberg’s decision. Miller has also let it be known that he will retaliate against any colleague who demonstrates designs on the Speaker’s office.

There’s one other serious implication that emerges with the possibility that Rosenberg’s edict will be upheld on appeal. This would make Miller a lame duck so his effectiveness in battling mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor George Pataki over budget matters would be seriously diminished. So he’s hoping for a speedy resolution in the appeal courts.

DEM CLUB DINNERS: On Thursday evening, April 10, County Democratic Leader Thomas Manton and co-leader Marie Konecko will host the Anoroc Democratic Club 78th anniversary dinner-dance at Riccardo’s, 21-04 24th Ave., Astoria.

City Councilmember Eric Gioia will receive the Public Service Award; Patrick Lynch, Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association president the Special Achievement Award and Pat Murray the Community Service Award.

Gioia will be honored for his "unwavering commitment to the communities he serves;" Lynch will be cited for his leadership of the PBA and his "firm commitment to the city and its citizens; and Murray for his service during his term president of the Queen of Angels youth program and as a Community Board 2 member.

The following night, Friday, April 11, also at Riccardo’s, the Powhatan and Pocahontas Regular Democratic Clubs of Long Island City will hold their annual dinner–dances. Honorees will be Ann Bruno and Gus Antonopoulos. The club’s District Leaders Anne Marie Anzalone and James Cazilas, and State Committee Member Laura Jean Hawkins remind us that festivities begin at 7 p.m. and tickets are $60 per person. Call Ann Favicchio at 718-274-7775 to reserve tickets. Mail checks to Favicchio at 23-35 46th St., Long Island City, N.Y. 11103.

WEPRIN TREE PROTECTION BILL: Anyone who nails or pierces a tree in any way to affix a notice, sign or advertisement to a tree, such as campaign literature, will be subjected to a higher fine under an amendment to a 1985 law sponsored by Weprin and passed the council last week.

The 1985 law makes it a violation to affix posters, notices, signs or advertisements to tree or poles. Weprin’s law doubles fines for these infractions from $150 to $300 for the first offense.

WANT A TREE PLANTED? Vallone Jr. says any resident of his 22nd Council District who wants a tree planted in front of his or her property should call his district office at (718) 274-4500 by April 11. The lawmaker said he will make every effort to include the requests in his request to the Parks Department for planting either in late fall or early spring of next year.

PERALTA HONORED: Assemblymember Jose Peralta (D–Corona), the first Latino elected to the Assembly from Queens, was recently honored by the city council Black, Latino and Asian Caucus for his outstanding work as a new lawmaker, including his advocacy of immigrant rights and his efforts on behalf of minority working class groups.

Last Wednesday, Peralta organized a meeting to help Sharf Manor employees reorganize with Local 1199 Healthcare Workers Union. Sharf Manor is a senior citizen residence in Rego Park.

Also attending the meeting in support of Peralta were Councilmember Hiram Monserrate (D–Corona), state Senator John Sabini (D–Jackson Heights), local Democratic Leader Julissa Ferreras and District Leader-At-Large Fior Rodriguez, who represented Congressmember Gary Ackerman.

WOULD CUT SALARY TO HELP FISCAL CRISIS: Councilmember Tony Avella (D–Bayside) has offered to return 5 percent of his $90,000 annual salary (or $4,500) to the city’s general fund to help ease the city’s fiscal crisis. He said the offer is for this year and next, if he is re-elected. Previously, Avella twice refused the $8,000 stipend which he was entitled to for his duties as the Zoning and Franchises Committee chairman.

He noted, "many New Yorkers are facing serious hardships caused by increased property taxes and the sagging economy and job market and the soon-to-be increased transit fare." He said as a councilmember, "I believe it is inherently unfair for my neighbors to suffer without me suffering some pain as well."

LIU SPONSORS RENT REGS BILL: Councilmember John Liu (D–Flushing) was the sponsor of rent control extension legislation which passed the council recently. His reasons for supporting the bills he said, were, "A stable housing market not only means more affordable housing for seniors and working families but will help us economically by keeping people and jobs in New York."

QUEENS GOP BLASTS ANTI-SEMITIC REMARK: Congressmember James Moran, a Virginia Democrat, made news recently when he charged that President George W. Bush’s "rush to war" in Iraq was because of "the strong support of the Jewish community" for the war.

The statement was derided in Congress. Here in Queens, the Republican Party passed a resolution calling on Moran to resign his congressional seat.

The party chairman, state Senator Serphin Maltese, declared that Moran’s statement was reprehensible. "He should be ashamed of himself," Maltese declared.

Astoria GOP Leader Vince Tabone said that Moran’s comments "suggest either a lack of character or a lack of sensitivity and are at odds with his constitutional responsibilities. He should step down."

VELAZQUEZ AWARDS $500 G: Congressmember Nydia M. Velazquez (D–Queens/Brooklyn) recently presented a congressional grant of $500,000 to a Brooklyn organization, Make the Road by Walking (MRBW). With the funds, MRBW will start a new community center where residents of all ages can develop fundamental skills in English and Spanish literacy and computer technology. Theater workshops will also be offered.

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