Queens Pols Support Aqueduct Convention Center
From Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver down to local Queens and Ozone Park legislators, there was generally praise for Governor Andrew Cuomo’s bombshell disclosure of plans last week to build what would be the largest convention center in the U.S. on the Aqueduct Racetrack site.
Like the remainder of Cuomo’s State of the State address, the convention center and the other parts of his Albany address were tied to creating thousands of jobs and rebuilding the state’s economy.
Like any speech, there were those who praised the governor’s ideas, which are basically his plans for the 2012 session, and those who disagreed with some of it, calling it old hat stuff which didn’t succeed in the past.
But speaking of the convention center proposal, which would be another “big time” placement for Queens, Mayor Bloomberg concurred that the city badly needed a world-class convention center, because the existing one on Manhattan’s West Side, didn’t fill the bill.
The mayor agreed with Cuomo’s idea to enlarge the Jacob Javits Convention Center as part of a West Side major improvement, and praised the proposed Aqueduct facility as having the advantage of a decent location, being close to Kennedy Airport, and also having ample land. But he warned that transit facilities must assure it will be accessible from all parts of the city.
Silver was impressed with the massive, $4 billion private investment that will fund the huge convention construction plan. Other sources said the governor, the day before his speech, had worked out an agreement with Genting New York, the operator of the Aqueduct racino, to put up the cash to build the convention center.
The huge project will generate thousands of new jobs and 3,000 hotel rooms. Cuomo also announced formally his plan to legalize casino gambling in New York state, and possibly build a major casino at Aqueduct too.
Congressmember Bob Turner (R–CQueens/ Brooklyn), who’s district includes Aqueduct, said in a letter to the governor, “Let me be clear, I believe your proposal for a convention center in Queens conceptionally has merit and I commend you to get New Yorkers back to work and our state back on track.”
But, he added, Community Board 10, which includes Aqueduct, has had extensive experience with traffic, transportation and other issues pertaining to Aqueduct, so he “strongly urged an open and transparent planning process with a key role be reserved” for CB 10.
Turner also noted to Cuomo, “There are still many issues that need to be addressed this year, among them getting New Yorkers back to work including increasing incentives for companies to do business in the state and promoting tourism.
The lawmaker also said, “The governor should also continue to tackle the issue of mandate relief” and “stop telling localities how to spend their money and provide relief from this burden.”
State Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D–Howard Beach) said he was enthusiastic about the convention center at Aqueduct idea, but he added: “I also believe we should proceed forward in a cautious manner.” He also urged, like Turner, there should be major community input, showing them plans or drawings as it goes forward.
Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, addressing the convention center at Aqueduct, stated: “This forward looking proposal, in addition to creating tens of thousands of jobs would generate thousands of hotel rooms and put national and international events close to Kennedy Airport and mass transit, and complement the Aqueduct racino complex, which already has become the highest earning racino in the state of New York.”
Marshall recalled that she had advocated for a convention center for Queens for many years, and was successful in having a small sized center included in the on-going redevelopment of the Willets Point site in Flushing.
Assemblymember Aravella Simotas (D–Astoria) praised the governor for “presenting a bold, comprehensive vision for New York state’s future that focuses on revitalizing our economy, making our government more efficient and instituting progressive reforms to empower women, minorities and working families”, as well as proposing “the nation’s biggest convention center in Queens”.
Another Assemblymember, Phillip Goldfeder (D–Rockaways), called the Aqueduct convention center proposal “an ambitious plan that must be undertaken responsibly and appropriately with real community involvement and participation”.
Finally, the Queens Chamber of Commerce, through its Executive Director Jack Friedman, noted the businessmen’s group had advocated a first class convention center in Queens for many years. And the C of C’s President, Carol Conslato, added that the plan is a “huge victory for Queens”.
Both officials said the planned Willets Point convention center should continue to be built as planned.
GOP SEEKING 63RD SENATE SEAT: Governor Andrew Cuomo said nothing about redistricting the state legislative lines in last Wednesday’s address, but former Mayor Ed Koch and other reform organizations are closely watching the present Assembly and senate members continuing full speed to come up with a reapportionment plan for this year’s congressional and other elections.
When this is completed, the governor has said, he will challenge it in court. Meanwhile, his request that the legislature be replaced by a non-partisan commission to redraw the lines fell on deaf ears in the Assembly and senate. And Koch and reform groups are standing ready to support the governor if he ignites a legal battle.
Meanwhile, in the latest brazen move to turn the drawing of new lines to their own advantage, senate Republicans announced last week that their map makers have proposed creating a 63rd senate seat, presumably tailored to fit a Republican. Obviously they feel the new 63rd seat will enhance their chances of winning control of the senate in the November elections.
Republicans, who presently control the redistricting effort in the senate by virtue of the 32-30 edge they have in membership, said the methods used in drawing up new seats in the 2002 redistricting, when applied to current population, calls for an additional seat.
However, state Senator Michael Gianaris (D–Astoria), the Democrats’ Senate Campaign Committee head, has pointed out that the state constitution contains a formula for creating additional senate seats, and added that the state’s population growth had not been sufficient to trigger that formula.
“To ignore and tear up the constitution to protect political power is despicable,” he was quoted saying in another newspaper.
It seems sure that this difference in opinions will wind up in court to be settled. This battle over redistricting, which clearly places Democrats and Republicans in clearly hostile camps, appears to close the door to a bipartisan solution such as those the governor resorted to last year to get major victories.
QUEENS GOP BATTLING AGAIN: Those were serious charges leveled against Queens Republican Leader Phil Ragusa and his official team in Flushing by Councilmember Eric Ulrich (Ozone Park), former Councilmember Tom Ognibene, Congressmember Bob Turner and former Congressmember Rick Lazio, from Long Island in Sunday’s N.Y. Post.
Ulrich alleges Ragusa and other top party leaders engaged in allegedly several instances of seeking money payments to give a candidate the organization’s endorsement or by paying out fees to a partyfavored consultant.
Ulrich has demanded an investigation of these allegations “by the district attorney’s office or the U.S. Attorney’s office,” but didn’t identify any of these officials by name.
Neither Ragusa nor anyone else in his circle responded to requests for comment.
It should be said that Ulrich and Ognibene lost a challenge to Ragusa and his co-officials for the party’s leadership recent- ly, and Ognibene is still appealing the decision, which upheld Ragusa as the re-elected leader and his slate.
Joining with Ulrich and Ognibene in the challenge to Ragusa et al was Bart Haggerty, of Forest Hills, who ran for the leadership and lost. He is the brother of John Haggerty, who was recently sent to prison after being found guilty of stealing some $750,000 from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which he was supposed to use for the Mayor’s 2009 re-election campaign but instead took the money for his own purposes. Reportedly, John Haggerty worked in the political fight against Ragusa before his trial started.
Congressmember Bob Turner (R–CQueens/ Brooklyn) says in the story that when he sought the Queens GOP’s endorsement to run against Assemblymember David Weprin for Anthony Weiner’s vacated seat, Ragusa and the leaders delayed a decision regarding his requested endorsement. He said they were “hesitant” and he lost two weeks of campaigning before they issued the endorsement.
“Their reasons for doing it were suspect,” said Turner.
Turner said he was approached by political consultant Jay Golub while the endorsement was pending. He thought Golub may have been trying to give the impression that he could help Turner get the endorsement, but nothing came from their discussions.
Golub said in the story, he was “just trying to help Bob”.
Queens Republican leaders have been challenged by insurgents frequently during the past 25 years, probably longer, sometimes successfully. Let’s see how far this one goes.
MALONEY ON JOBS REPORT: Congressmember Carolyn Maloney (D–Queens/Manhattan) says December’s job gains—200,000—were “a strong way to end the year…” But she adds that “if we’re to make [a] real dent in the unemployment rate, both sides in Congress need to come together and pass the President’s jobs bill and the full-year payroll tax cut.”
RALLY AGAINST LIQUOR LICENSE: Lawmakers Assemblymember Catherine Nolan (D–Sunnyside), state Senator Michael Gianaris (D–Astoria), Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer (D–Woodside), and CB 2 Chair Joe Conley will stage a rally on Thursday against 21 Group Inc.’s State Liquor Authority application for a Gentleman’s Club, Gypsy Rose, located at 42-50 21st St. in Long Island City. The protesters will voice their concerns about Gypsy Rose serving liquor.
WANTS TRAIN TRANSIT IMPROVED, NOT ‘GLITTER’: Responding to calls to convert the abandoned areas of the Rockaway Beach Rail Line into a highline park space, Assemblymember Phillip Goldfeder says “fuggedaboutit” and bring back the former rail service connection through Forest Park to the Rockaways.
The freshman lawmaker says “transportation options for Southern Queens and Rockaway straphangers are severely limited”, and, in recent years, there’s been “a large population and construction boom” in the area.
But he points out, the former rail line would provide residents “with safe, affordable and expedited access to other parts of the city and 40 minute commutes to Midtown Manhattan”.
In addition, he says, “The opening of Resorts World Casino in Ozone Park, the renaissance of the Rockaway Peninsula as a tourist haven and the growing population all show that the restoration of this rail line is needed more now than ever.”
Goldfeder also commended CB 14 and the Rockaway Transit Coalition led by Lew Simon for their advocacy over the years.
HALLORAN DEFENDS TOURIST ARRESTED ON GUN CHARGE: Councilmember Dan Halloran (R–CWhitestone) wants the Manhattan DA to drop charges against a Tennessee woman and licensed firearm owner who was arrested at the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero on December 22 when she attempted to check her legal, licensed gun after she learned the gun was not allowed at the memorial.
Now the woman, Meredith Graves, a fourth year medical student, faces up to three years in prison if found guilty.
Halloran argues, “Legal gun owners come to New York City and are penalized harshly for minor violations of a law they don’t know from a state they don’t live [in].”
Halloran said the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a bill which would make what Graves did perfectly legal, and he urged the Senate to also pass the bill and President Barack Obama to sign it into law.
“Some of our gun laws are not only stupid, they’re unconstitutional,” said Halloran, noting that the city’s law violated the federal Constitution’s Full Faith and Credit Clause. He concluded, “A good law in one state is also good in another [state]. A three-year prison term for Ms. Graves would be harsh and unjustified. I urge the District Attorney to drop the charges in their entirety.”
TURNER WELCOMES ‘WELCOME HOME’ PARADE: Congressmember Bob Turner (R–C–Queens/Brooklyn) is all in favor of a welcome home parade for returning Iraq troops up Fifth Ave. in Manhattan, the ‘Canyon of Heroes’.”
Turner declared in a statement, “Ever since our troops returned home from Iraq, a discussion has been occurring about the best way to honor them for their service. Given the sacrifices our troops have made, with many of them doing several tours of duty, a parade in the Canyon of Heroes is the least we can do. Today, I would like to urge the President and Pentagon to work with Mayor Bloomberg and other local officials to make this parade a reality. We should seize this opportunity to publicly say thank you to the brave men and women who serve our country.”