2016-01-27 / Features

Katz Celebrates The ‘World’s Borough’

BY THOMAS COGAN


New York City Public Advocate Letitia James and former City Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr. at the 2016 State of the Borough address at the Colden Center at Queens College. 
Photos by Dan Miller/DMD IMAGES New York City Public Advocate Letitia James and former City Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr. at the 2016 State of the Borough address at the Colden Center at Queens College. Photos by Dan Miller/DMD IMAGES Queens Borough President Melinda Katz held her second State of the Borough on January 21 before an audience of her constituents, elected officials and community organizers.

In her first year as the leader of the “World’s Borough,” Katz saw to the building of new schools and the reduction of trailers set up as emergency classrooms; assisted the Queens Public Library out of a low point to one of the largest, most successful public library systems in the country with the introduction of six-day service and the establishment of construction programs that would put up new housing from the Rockaways to Hallets Point.

This last item drew some faint boos amidst the noisy cheers, indicating that some parts of the general agenda are controversial.

In standard fashion, the borough president recited lists of claimed achievements and promises of more to come. Her theme was that life in Queens serves as “a template for the future,” both here and in the rest of the country. The wide variety of cultures and languages in the borough is bound to spread, and is what makes Queens one of the most unique places in the world. “We have some of the best schools in the city,” she said.

Bard High School on Thomson Avenue in Long Island City came in for praise, and Katz also addressed overcrowding.

She said that by actual count, PS 19 Marino P. Jeantet school in Elmhurst, with nearly 2,000 students, provides the worst case of overcrowding in the city.

The borough president added that the school’s emergency trailers would be removed by the end of the year, as new classroom construction is completed. She also reasserted her disdain for Common Core, speaking as a mother who says she has looked over her children’s homework assignments and seen a great lack of common sense.

She made a quick transition from schools to libraries as she compared last year’s implementation of six-day weeks in nearly all branches (she extended a lot of gratitude to City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer for working hard to have legislation passed making Saturday service available) to 2014’s Queens Library leadership controversy and her dismissal of six library trustees.

Parks were next. Included in the good news was $45 million in funding during her first two years for upkeep of the borough’s thousands of parkland acres, she noted. Within one of the largest of those parks is the New York State Pavilion, built for the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair and allowed to deteriorate in later decades (when many referred to it as “the ruin”). But the restoration has begun, she said, thanking Governor Cuomo for backing it. It began in the summer with the repainting of the Tent of Tomorrow by a team of history preservationists, who applied 1,000 gallons of fresh paint.

She listed several sites where the building of new housing is projected, and the mild but detectable murmurs of disapproval amidst louder cheers only indicated the controversy that often accompanies housing construction because of such matters as displacement, congestion and affordability. The stronger protest, led by one woman, came from a section of the audience that seemed impatient for the borough president to get around to their cause, Jamaica Now.

She got to Jamaica Now just about then, saying it would bring in $163 million for civic improvement there, including widespread availability of free Wi-Fi.

Older places in need of repair include LaGuardia Airport and neighborhoods, mainly coastal ones, still recovering more than two years later from Sandy. She said that newer flight plans at LaGuardia are attached to environmental studies, conducted so take-off and landing efficiency needn’t mean noise pollution over neighborhoods adjacent to the airport. Katz applauded the projected improvements of LaGuardia Airport and greatly anticipated the coming of ferry service set to begin operation in Queens in 2017.

She ended with a flourish, bringing Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson and Manager Terry Collins out on stage, to celebrate the National League championship New York Mets.

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