2011-05-11 / Features

Pheffer Leaving Assembly For Queens County Clerk’s Job

BY JOHN TOSCANO

After much speculation about who would become the next County Clerk of Queens County, a panel of judges of the state’s Appellate Division recently chose Assemblymember Audrey Pheffer of Far Rockaway, a veteran of almost a quarter century of service in the state legislature.

In an interview earlier this week, Pheffer said she was looking forward to officially assuming her duties on May 12 at the Jamaica Supreme Court building on Sutphin Boulevard and “continuing Gloria’s work”, a reference to the late Gloria D’Amico, the longtime political power in Astoria, who passed away last winter after serving as County Clerk for almost 20 years.

Pheffer, 69, will be responsible for accurately maintaining the voluminous files of the county’s Supreme Courts, both criminal and civil, while supervising the summoning of the thousands of jurors who are selected to participate in trials.

Maintaining the files properly is an important job because they represent the official record of what transpires in the courtrooms everyday. Those files are regularly retrieved by lawyers conducting appeals or for other reasons.

“We want to bring the work of the court into the 21st century by e-filing those records, putting them into computer systems and reducing the paper handling,” said Pheffer. “I hope to be continuing Gloria’s work in this respect and also with the jury duty function of the office.”

“Unfortunately, too many people look at jury duty as a burden,” she explained. “I think we can change that attitude through education and make it more pleasant, a more interesting experience when a juror has to wait to be called for a case.”

Pheffer said she might even install television sets in the jury rooms to keep jurors occupied if they’re waiting to be called for a trial.

Pheffer was elected as an Assemblymember in 1987 to represent the district stretching from Ozone Park and Howard Beach to Broad Channel and the Rockaways. She has often proudly affirmed that she lived in the Rockaways all her life and knew the district and its constituents intimately.

Through the years she earned a reputation as an activist lawmaker, tackling every local issue, big or small, as well as keeping up with the business of lawmaking in the Assembly.

For the past 11 years, she has headed the Consumer Affairs Committee. Of the many issues dealt with over that period, Pheffer says one of her most satisfying accomplishments was sponsoring the law dealing with identity theft, which was of special interest to seniors.

Before the law was passed, there were so many cases of credit cards being stolen, and identity theft was everywhere, she recalled. The law clamping down on the crime made a huge difference throughout New York state.

Accompanying the law was an education campaign enlightening seniors about con artists who elicit sensitive information by telephone.

The law and the education campaign worked out well for seniors and others, and that brought her a lot of satisfaction, she said.

More recently, Pheffer was deeply involved in bringing Racino to Aqueduct Racetrack in Ozone Park, supplementing the thoroughbred racing activity with income from about 500 electronically operated slot machines.

Pheffer recalled the effort started about seven years ago and was finally capped with success when a reputable organization won the franchise to operate the Racino. It is under construction presently and the opening is anticipated shortly.

Pheffer, along with state Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) set their sights on the new venture for economic reasons. This included jobs for local residents, a boost in business for neighborhood stores and a share of the profits from the Racino operation to the state, equaling perhaps a billion dollars a year targeted for education.

Pheffer and Addabbo worked with the local community board to guarantee that the local community benefits were part of the plan. The project got the go-ahead last year.

“It was an awful lot of work and effort involved, but it was a win-win victory for everybody,” Pheffer summed up.

With Pheffer leaving to take the $136,000-a-year job in the Queens County Clerk’s office, the job of filling her old position in the state Assembly will be done in a special election that awaits Governor Andrew Cuomo’s call.

Pheffer’s choice is Joann Shapiro, her longtime chief of staff. Republicans are expected to go with Jane Deacy, a Breezy Point resident.

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