2008-03-12 / Political Page

Queens Councilmembers Lead Opposition To Mayor's Congest Plan

Ten members of the Queens City Council delegation are leading the opposition to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's congestion pricing proposal, the highly controversial and most important policy initiative on his agenda as he nears the end of his career in City Hall.

The beleaguered mayor is really under the gun on this one because he needs both the council and the state legislature to approve the far-reaching environmental and money-raising plan.

According to a New York Times survey of how councilmembers view the proposal, 10 Queens councilmembers oppose the plan, two others in the borough's delegation are in favor of it, and another two are undecided.

Among the 10 opponents, all Democrats, are David Weprin of Hollis, James Gennaro, Fresh Meadows and Helen Sears, of Jackson Heights. The three have been in the forefront of opposition since the proposal was released.

The other seven councilmembers opposed to the mayor's plan, also all Democrats, are: Tony Avella (Bayside), Peter Vallone Jr. (Astoria), Eric Gioia (Long Island City), Leroy G. Comrie Jr. (St. Albans), Thomas White Jr. (Jamaica), Melinda Katz (Forest Hills) and Joseph P. Addabbo Jr. (Ozone Park).

Those in favor are John Liu (Flushing) and Hiram Monserrate (Corona), also both Democrats; while Dennis Gallagher of Middle Village, the only Queens Republican, and James Sanders Jr. (D- Rockaway) are the undecided pair.

The plan requires 26 "yes" votes to be approved and sent on its way to Albany as a home rule message. If the survey is accurate, only six of the undecideds will be needed to join with opponents of the plan to kill it.

In the great majority of cases, legislation before the council which is supported by Speaker Christine Quinn (D- Manhattan) passes easily.

Legislation sent up by Bloomberg also generally meets little opposition.

But with 10 members of the Queens delegation, five other area legislators from Brooklyn and three from Staten Island, and one each from Manhattan and The Bronx all opposing it, the mayor's plan looks like it's in trouble.

Weprin, who has led the opposition in the council, has also made the case for the Queens opponents. He, along with opponents from Brooklyn, has argued against proposed tolls on East River bridges being part of the mayor's plan, as many Queens residents are forced to use their cars.

Gennaro and Sears have joined Weprin in opposing the plan on the grounds that many neighborhoods which have transit stations would become jammed with drivers seeking parking spaces for their cars so they could then take a bus or subway into Manhattan.

WEINER GOES TO BAT FOR CLEMENS: When Congressmember Anthony Weiner took baseball star Roger Clemens' side in the steroids scandal debate last week, one had to wonder if it wouldn't have been wiser for a public official contemplating a run for New York City mayor two years from now just to sit this one out and let it run its course.

The question arose after Weiner last week entered the highly charged case that will test whether sports fans will remain loyal to the best pitcher in baseball's modern era or abandon him.

The case is focused on Clemens' alleged steroid use which led to an investigation into whether the burly hurler committed perjury when he told Congress he never took steroids after the baseball great's trainer testified he personally administered human growth hormone to Clemens numerous times from 1998 to 2001.

The trainer's assertions were confirmed by Clemens' buddy, Yankee lefty Andy Pettitte.

The current probe and the possible indictment of Clemens on perjury charges which might grow out of the probe could have two different results.

If Clemens was indicted and found guilty, Weiner's decision to support him could lead to the lawmaker's judgment being questioned seriously. Why would he defend a person who had used drugs to try to gain an advantage over other players and lied about it to cover it up?

Weiner might also draw criticism because Clemens tried to stand above the law and tried to deceive the fans and the federal government, which was pursuing a lawful and beneficial objective- discouraging drug use, which could be harmful to many others.

On the other hand, Weiner's defense of Clemens could resonate with fans of baseball who do not see the use of drugs as being terribly harmful. The lawmaker has argued forcefully, "At a certain point, Congress and the FBI have to ask the fundamental question, 'Is this in the public interest for us to continue to be pursuing?'."

The Queens/Brooklyn lawmaker maintains that the investigation of Clemens is not as serious as the cases involving baseball's all-time leading home run hitter, Barry Bonds, because Bonds was involved in a criminal probe.

"I make a distinction [between] lying to a grand jury and [being] part of a criminal investigation," he said. [If you hinder a criminal investigation,] "You are stopping us from getting a smuggler off the streets."

If Congress were to accede to Weiner's plea to end its probe and pursuit of Clemens, more support for Weiner might develop from fans who feel Congress has no business going after athletes who are not accused of breaking any law and are accountable only to themselves and their fans.

One thing is sure- Weiner has shown himself to be a standup guy who's not afraid to jump into such a controversial issue.

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