BP Sworn In To Second Term
Queens Borough President Helen Marshall sounded the call for more affordable housing, improved youth programs and retention of the borough’s hospitals in her inauguration address yesterday after being sworn in to a second term at Terrace On The Park in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park.
At the ceremony, attended by many elected public officials and civic and community leaders, Marshall, 75, was sworn in by Justice Leslie Leach, a Queens Civil Court judge.
In presenting her program for her second and possibly final term under Term Limits, the veteran Queens lawmaker emphasized, there is a greater need than ever for affordable housing. To underscore the point, she cited the recent death of three family members in an Elmhurst fire which revealed severe overcrowding in a small apartment.
Marshall, who has fought against the creation of illegal apartments throughout her previous career as an Assemblymember and city councilmember, said this problem is now highlighting the need for affordable housing as immigrants continue to stream into Queens and the rest of the city.
She noted that both Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his opponent in the 2005 mayoral election Fernando Ferrer, had emphasized the critical need for affordable housing for low- and middle-income families. With the election behind her, Marshall said she stood ready to support any programs to get new housing built.
Marshall next called attention to the worsening crisis in the borough’s hospital situation, with many hospitals closing and others possibly slated for closing. The Brooklyn/Queens Catholic Diocese, which had closed St. Joseph’s Hospital in Flushing, recently announced that it is seeking someone to take over and operate two of its other hospitals, St. John’s Hospital in Elmhurst and Mary Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica.
In addition to these hospitals, which may close if new operators do not come forward, there is a serious threat of closings by a state hospital restructuring commission, with Peninsula Hospital Center in the Rockaways and Mary Immaculate especially vulnerable.
Marshall stated that the hospital commission may be basing its decisions to close hospitals on the number of unused beds they have. But, she insisted, “Hospitals aren’t just beds. They also provide other vital services, such as emergency services, which are very important to a community.”
She said it is not unusual for a local hospital to experience more than 50,000 emergency cases a year. “What will happen if some tragedy occurs at an airport where planes routinely take off and land with 500 passengers aboard?” she asked.
Referring to the uncertain future of St. John’s and Mary Immaculate Hospitals, she noted, “There may come a time when, after you pass St. John’s you will have to go all the way to Rockaway to find a hospital.”
Marshall said she was very concerned about what might come out of the hospital restructuring commission report. If some of the possible hospital closings become a reality, she warned, Jamaica Hospital and others will be over-burdened and emergency services can be overtaxed.
Marshall said through a spokesman prior to the inauguration that Queens is a worse candidate than Manhattan in terms of hospital closings. Queens, with a population of 2.2 million, has 1.4 beds per 1,000 people; Manhattan has 1.5 million population and 7.1 beds per 1,000 people. In addition, he said, Queens’ 13 hospitals have 4,000 beds compared to Manhattan with 22 hospitals and 10,600 beds.
Turning her attention to youth programs and services, Marshall said that budget cuts to these programs over a period of years have created a need to revisit the programs to determine what their needs are.
She said she is planning to hold a week-long youth conference this spring “to try to find out what’s on their minds, what should government do to help.” All-day workshops would be held during the conference to try to come up with answers and new programs after budget allotments are raised.
Marshall noted that tennis for children and youths has been instituted at several city housing developments. These have proved to be very popular and very beneficial.
Marshall, who won re-election last November by a wide margin, said that in her first term she worked hard to secure funding for senior services and wants these funding levels to be maintained to make sure seniors get hot meals every day.
On education, she said, “We’ve dented the schools’ overcrowding problem and we’ve got to make it better.” During her first term, she said, 16,000 new school seats were created and 25,000 more are planned.