The Civic Scene: New members take over reins of City Council

By Bob Harris

Fresh Meadows saw changes as two icons in the City Council were forced by term limits to give up their seats. Sheldon Leffler, who left District 23, District 24’s Morton Povman both served Fresh Meadows for three decades. Both attended numerable civic association meetings and were available to their constituents when needed. The two represented parts of Fresh Meadows covered by my West Cunningham Park Civic Association, so I have known them for decades.

I recently wrote about the installation of Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis). Just a few days ago I also attended the installation of James F. Gennaro (D-Jamaica Estates). His district cuts across Queens from the western side of 192nd Street, just across from my house all the way into Forest Hills. I wonder what the district will look like in two years after the redistricting which will take place because of the 2000 Census.

I seemed to notice more new council members at Gennaro’s installation. Perhaps it is because it was later than the other installations I attended and they had bonded more or perhaps because he has worked for the City Council and more people knew him. Gennaro is a professor at Queens College, so his event took place in the Samuel J. and Ethel Lefrak Concert Hall on the Queens College Campus. The reception took place in the magnificent atrium in the same building.

Council member Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills) was on the stage to support Gennaro. I have known Katz because she has been the coordinator of community boards for former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman. I had also known her as a graduate of Hillcrest High School where she had trained her fine voice as a music major.

A newly chosen city leader on the stage, although he arrived late, was Council Speaker Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan). He had not attended the other installations I had attended, perhaps because he had been busy lobbying for the speaker position or perhaps because he knew Gennaro better.

Also present was Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) who had been assistant to Archie Spigner. Comrie was recently handed the powerful council position of chairman of the Rules Committee. Hiram Monserrate (D-Jackson Heights), the new member from western Queens, was also present. He holds the distinction of being the first Latino to be elected from Queens to the City Council.

Alan Jennings (D-Jamaica), from south Queens, was visible mostly because of his towering presence. However, towering over all was the former congressman from western Queens, Tom Manton. He is the leader of the Queens Democratic Party and so has a tremendous amount of influence.

These are the people who will make the laws and perform the activities for the residents of Queens to maintain our quality of life. Because many had been involved with civic associations they know what we want and need in our communities.

The irony of all these installations is that there are two term limitations being faced by all these elected officials. One is the law which limits city officials to two four-year terms and the other is the need for new elections in two years after redistricting is completed. That means more spending for campaigns with money coming from. . .

Good and Bad News of the Week

The results of the Intel Science Talent Search, formerly called the Westinghouse Talent Search, have been released and 36 of the 300 semifinalists were from New York City. This is a tribute to the elementary and high schools of our city. While 15 of the winners were from Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, many of them are residents of Queens. In fact, 19 of the semifinalists live in Queens.

I have always been unhappy with students going to high schools away from their own neighborhoods because it deprives neighborhood schools from having students who win awards. When my wife attended Jamaica High School, it had the highest number of Westinghouse Science Talent winners in the city. Today our neighborhood has many senior citizens who do not have high school-aged children so our area, sometimes called Flushing, had few winners listed in the newspapers.

More figures have been released on the amount of money Mike Bloomberg spent to win the office of mayor. He has reportedly given $300,000 and $100,000 bonuses to some who ran his campaign. Some people only received a bonus of $25,000. Some of these people are now working for the city in positions which are supposed to serve the people of our city. This means he has spent a total of $72 million to run for mayor.

While it may be good that a man who earned so much money in business can use this skill to help New York City, I wonder at the morality and purpose of spending so much money to become an elected official. What type of people should we elect and have in office? What will be their decisions on, say, an issue like the desire of a speculator who wants to overturn the preservation district set up in Fresh Meadows where the Klein Farm is located and build 22 two-family homes on this three-acre location which is home to the last functioning farm in New York City?

Reach columnist Bob Harris by e-mail at [email protected] or call 229-0300, Ext. 139.