eye on politics
Avella, Ragusa Feud Over R.E. Tax Hike
City Councilmember Tony Avella, a Bayside Democrat, and Phil Ragusa, a Beechhurst Republican who’s challenging Avella for the 19th City Council District seat in northeast Queens this year, both opposed the 18.5 percent real estate tax increase which was enacted last November to close a budget gap.
But, strangely enough, it could still become an issue in their race because Ragusa feels that Avella was only "posturing and grandstanding" when he voted against it.
Ragusa, 63-year-old certified public accountant, said, "If they [the Democratic majority in the council] really needed his vote to pass it, he would have voted with the majority—he’s been voting for every tax bill, then suddenly he votes against the 18.5 percent increase."
Avella, who took a lot of heat from Council Speaker Gifford Miller and incurred the enmity of Mayor Michael Bloomberg for voting against the levy, sounded annoyed at Ragusa’s accusations.
"I didn’t get a pass on it. I’m not going to argue with him about it, either. He can say what he wants. I’m going to run my campaign the way I want, and my campaign is not to respond to him. All I know is I got an overwhelming positive response from my constituents on that vote, so let’s just drop it there."
On other matters, Ragusa feels the Democrat-led council is not doing enough oversight of other fiscal matters.
"Before passing the real estate tax increase, they should have audited every agency to make sure there was no waste that could have been trimmed," he said. "You’ve got to make sure you’re getting the bang for the buck before you start raising taxes. If you don’t do audits, you can’t find out where the wrong spending is."
It was noted that the council and the mayor had both forced all departments to cut their budgets to make savings. Ragusa responded that the cuts didn’t go far enough.
Ragusa indicated another battleground in his campaign against Avella would be on community issues, although he refused to get into it early in the race. He’s been a community activist for some 20 years, not quite as long as Avella, but this looks like more fertile ground for future campaign clashes.
BIDS MILLER LEAVE POST: Although there’s a chance Council Speaker Gifford Miller’s tenure in his present powerful post will be ended if a court ruling is upheld, a Brooklyn councilmember feels he should go immediately.
In a letter to Miller, Councilmember James Davis (D) wrote: "Thank you for your services as city council speaker, but I think the remaining city council members will be able to effectively carry on the business of the city of New York when your term ends in December."
A spokesman for Miller said the speaker would decline Davis’ invitation.
Miller’s job is in jeopardy since a Brooklyn State Supreme Court Justice ruled invalid the measure which modified the term limits law to allow Miller and five other councilmembers to run for another two-year term this year so that they will get the eight years in office they’re entitled to under term limits. The judge said changes in term limits can only be brought about by a popular referendum. Miller and the others are appealing the judge’s ruling. If it stands, Miller will be out of office at the end of this year and the council will elect a new speaker next January.
Davis’ open invitation to Miller to leave immediately raises the question of whether his authority will be further challenged in days to come with the court decision hanging over him.
There’s also a guessing game going on at City Hall as to who’s behind the court case which would grease the skids under Miller. There’s lots of speculation, but so far no solid suspect has emerged.
In a recent story on the subject, Councilmember David Weprin (D–Hollis) mused: "It’s got to be a pretty expensive suit [against Miller], and somebody’s got to be funding it."
Weprin said he had no idea who might be behind it, although he’s heard many theories.
We don’t have any information to back this up, but just as a guess, might it be Ronald Lauder? He shelled out a bundle to get the term limits change to the City Charter approved, and spent more later to beat back challenges to it.
Through it all, Miller defends the law which authorized the term limits revision for himself and the others and he says he’s confident the appeals courts will rule in his favor.
SEEK PERMANENT POLICE PRESENCE: The elected officials whose districts cover portions of Corona, East Elmhurst and Jackson Heights have appealed to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly to continue the successful Operation Impact, which brought "newfound safety and security" to Roosevelt Avenue and the area in general, beyond its March 31 expiration date.
The officials involved, Councilmember Hiram Monserrate and Assemblymembers Ivan Lafayette, Jeffrion Aubry and Jose Peralta, said their constituents fear a return to the conditions that created the need for Operation Impact.
"They fear the return of narcotic sales, prostitution, increased gang activity and drunken vagrants," the lawmakers told Kelly. They also urged the police commissioner to prioritize public safety programs with a proven track record of keeping residents and streets safe, to suspend the 90-day expiration date for Operation Impact and continue to operate a permanent police task force on the Roosevelt Avenue corridor.
STAY PUT, SEARS TO LABOR DEPT.: Councilmember Helen Sears (D–Jackson Heights) has asked the United States Department of Labor to drop its plan to move its Employment and Training Administration New York Regional Office to Boston.
Sears feels the transfer will have a negative effect on the people of New York City, especially Queens, where there’s a satellite office. "The regional office administers more than $1 billion in new federal funding for the region’s workers and businesses each year, assists in vital services, including acquiring unemployment insurance and national emergency grants and processing 400,000 unemployment claims each week. It will also cost local residents their jobs," Sears explained. She joined with the American Federal Government Employees’ Local 2513 last week to try to get the Labor Department to scrap the move.
CROWLEY PRESENTS $250G TO EHS: This past Monday, Congressmember Joseph Crowley (D–Queens/Bronx) presented a check for $250,000 to Elmhurst Hospital Center officials for the purchase a new digital mammogram apparatus for the hospital at 79-01 Broadway in Elmhurst. It will be the second such mammography device for the hospital. Digital mammography, he explained is the updated way to review breasts for the abnormalities that can indicate breast cancer. "It is a more accurate, faster way to detect cancer, the imagery is more consistent, and it is more convenient," he said.
SCHOOL GOVERNANCE FORUM: The State Senate Majority Task Force On New York City School Governance, chaired by Senator Frank Padavan (R–C, Bellerose) will hold a forum this Friday at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn to receive testimony regarding the replacement of community school boards, restructuring of school districts and changes to school governance, as proposed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Educators, administrators, government leaders, parents and community activists are expected to attend. Senator Serphin Maltese (R–C, Middle Village) is a member of the task force.
SOCIAL CALENDAR: This is a busy week for political club functions in the borough. This Sunday, the Queens County Conservative Party will hold its annual Spring Brunch at Roma View in Howard Beach. Tickets are $55 and the guest speaker will be Deroy Murdock, a nationally syndicated columnist who served in the Reagan Presidential Administration. For tickets, contact party chairman Tom Long at 718-748-6505 or 718-474-3826.
On Thursday, April 10, the ANOROCDemocratic Club will hold its 78th annual dinner-dance at Riccardo’s in Astoria. County Democratic Leader Thomas Manton, ANOROC head, says honorees are Councilmember Eric Gioia (D–Woodside); Patrick Lynch, Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association president, and Pat Murray, a community leader.
On Friday, April 11, the Powhatan and Pocahontas Democratic Clubs hold their annual dinner, also at Riccardo’s, beginning with cocktails at 7 p.m. This year’s honorees are Ann Bruno and Gus Antonopoulos.
On Saturday, April 12, the Democratic Club of Flushing, headed by former Councilmember Julia Harrison, will celebrate its 25th anniversary with a special luncheon at the East Manor Restaurant, 46-45 Kissena Blvd. from 1 to 4 p.m. Honorees Maestro David Close, Queens Oratorio Society; Fire Captain Eugene Kelty, Community Board 7 chairman; Michael Chiew, Korean Senior Citizens Club; Jack Hogan, co-president, Flushing Business Association; Ethel Chen, Asian–American Democratic Association; Josephine Clay Jones, Assistant Librarian, Flushing Hospital; Sally Kahn, Democratic Club of Flushing president; and Alyce Bond, past president, Wm. J. Keller LMO Telephone Pioneers.