2004-10-21 / Front Page

Avella Scores Political Victory As Mayor Drops College Point Proposal I on politics

By John Toscano

Mayor Michael Bloomberg suffered one of his worst political defeats when he had to back away from a $220 million project to build a wholesale distribution center at the former Flushing Airport in College Point Corporate Park.

Conversely, City Councilmember Tony Avella pulled off a major victory through a long, steady campaign which mobilized the community against the project. The opponents’ major complaint was that the wholesale center, which was to house 180 small ethnic businesses trucking in their products, would have strangled local traffic and wreaked havoc on local bus lines and private cars.

Avella was to have held the sixth demonstration against the project last Sunday morning. Instead, he turned it into a victory celebration. He was joined at the site by Assemblymember Nettie Mayersohn and by residents of College Point, Whitestone, a local Mitchell Linden housing complex and a Catholic priest, the Reverend Marcello Latona, pastor of a church near the controversial project.

Avella at the victory rally said the community favored something that wouldn’t add to the already overburdened traffic in the corporate park.

“They went ahead and picked the project without telling us,” he explained. “From Day 1 it was a boondoggle.”

It wasn’t the first major clash between the mayor and Avella. The longtime civic leader had earned the mayor’s wrath when he voted against Bloomberg’s huge real estate tax hike at the end of 2002. They clashed again when the mayor backed Republican Phil Ragusa against Avella in the latter’s successful re-election campaign last November. A few months after that, the mayor announced the wholesale center project, which Avella immediately attacked on the grounds that the city Economic Development Corporation (EDC) had kept the deal secret and was withholding information about other proposals that had been submitted for the former airport site.

Senator Frank Padavan, a Republican, and a veteran, highly respected lawmaker was also opposed to the project. When the mayor decided he was abandoning the plan, he informed Padavan first, and Padavan sent out a news release.

Padavan was also beseiged by community residents opposing the plan, and held several meetings with the EDC about it. He said these meetings both with the mayor and EDC were successful in pointing out problems with utilizing the site.

The mayor’s decision to chuck the deal created another group of disgruntled constituents, almost 200 merchants who were to have occupied the proposed new center, small businessmen from the Flushing area’s Korean community. Their leader, Jay Chung, reportedly charged that the mayor backed away from the project and stated in the New York Times : “This is unfair and frustrating, and we feel strongly victimized in the midst of all the political dealings.”

Chung said the group of merchants had invested $1 million in the project and was considering its options, among them possible legal action against the city.

All things considered, this was a major defeat for the mayor.

MORE HEADACHES FOR MAYOR: The political black eye the mayor got from his handling of the Flushing Airport project is the latest in a series of embarrassment he is suffering through. These include the premature release of former state Senator Guy Velella from Rikers Island prison and the death of an infant in a Forest Hills day care center.

Members of the board that sprang Velella were mayoral appointees and although the mayor fired them all, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Marganthau is investigating the release. Who knows what might come of it?

The child care tragedy led to an investigation which revealed city inspectors might not have done the best job at the center. Also City Council Speaker Gifford Miller and Councilmember Melinda Katz (D–Forest Hills) have taken some pot shots at the mayoral administration over the issue and have introduced legislation to create a panel to investigate the Forest Hills incidents and a surge of children’s deaths.

The latest worry to surface for the mayor concerns a threat to his total control over the city’s public school system. It arises over the court decision ordering Albany to give more funding to New York City. Governor George Pataki, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno could not decide how much the city is entitled to, so a panel of judges was appointed to do the governor’s and the legislature’s work.

During a hearing by the judicial panel last week, the possibility arose that along with getting millions of dollars more in funding, machinery to watch how the money is being spent would be put in place. This sounds a lot like imposing watchdogs over the disbursements. That could mean stepping on the mayor’s toes. He personally argued against the watchdog idea at a hearing on the funding issue in Manhattan.

PATAKI SANDBAGGED? On October 4, Governor Pataki’s office put out a statement proclaiming “good news for New York” that President George W. Bush had signed legislation extending the Liberty Bond program, which was designed to help rebuild lower Manhattan after September 11.

As part of the bill signed by Bush, under a proposal pushed hard by Pataki, the city was to receive $6 billion of the Liberty Bond money to build a rail link from Lower Manhattan to Kennedy Airport. The whole deal was supposed to show the tight relationship between the governor and the president.

A week later after the bill signing on October 11 Congress scuttled the whole deal as it approved a $136 billion corporate tax bill that was also a pork barrel delight for Alaska, a half dozen western states and Florida. But, alas, there wasn’t a penny in it for the governor’s airport link project.

United States Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton issued a statement saying that while she, Senator Charles Schumer and city Democrats in the Congressional delegation had supported the plan to fund the rail link, it was “unfortunate that the governor and the White House couldn’t convince their Republican allies in the House that this was a priority for New York.”

NOLAN GETS AWARD: Last Thursday the New York Industrial Retention Network (NYIRN), a citywide economic development organization, presented Assemblymember Catherine Nolan (D–Ridgewood) with an award for her efforts to create jobs and support small businesses and economic development in Sunnyside, Ridgewood and Long Island City, all of which are in her district.

Nolan was also cited for assisting NYIRN’s “Made in NYC” program by helping to get some 550 companies to participate in the program, which creates jobs by encouraging New York businesses to buy products made by other New York businesses.

SCHUMER–MEEKS BILL HONORS SPIGNER: A bill renaming the St. Albans Post Office in honor of former City Councilmember Archie Spigner, sponsored by Schumer and Congressmember Gregory Meeks (D–Southeast Queens) has been passed by both houses and now awaits Bush’s signature.

Spigner, who worked as a subway train conductor before embarking on a 27-year council career, was the first black to serve in that body, where he rose to be Deputy Majority Leader under Council Speaker Peter Vallone.

Spigner made an indelible mark on his Southeast Queens district, including his proposal for the purchase of the Jamaica Water Supply system, creation of the Environmental Control Board, unit pricing for drugs and leading the way for construction of the Addabbo Federal Building, York College and the Archer Avenue subway and the Jamaica Multi Service Building, among other projects.

MEEKS STRONG KERRY BACKER: Meeks has been deeply and actively involved in U.S. Senator John Kerry’s presidential campaign. Early last year, Meeks was Kerry’s main supporter in the presidential convention delegate elections, and led the Queens delegates at the Democratic National Convention.

Now Meeks has become one of Kerry’s most involved black supporters as a speaker for the candidate at church and business gatherings all over the country.

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