By Michael Morton
In giving his support to the billionaire entrepreneur-turned-politician at a senior center across from his church, Flake crossed party lines, not the first time he has done so for a candidate seeking the city's top post.”My choice is always based on who the best person is,” the minister said in a telephone interview Monday. Flake endorsed eventual mayoral winner Republican Rudolph Giuliani in 1997, but then supported Democratic nominee Mark Green in his losing bid against Bloomberg in 2001. “I've had time to evaluate him over the last three years,” Flake said about Bloomberg.Flake, who represented Queens from 1986 to 1997 in the post now held by U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans), said he admired the mayor's use of business skills to address the city's challenges and spur the economy, appreciated his initiatives for first-time home buyers and liked his effort to reform the educational system, in particular his attempt to end school overcrowding.”I have seen under this administration more schools started than in my 30 years here,” Flake said. The minister also said Bloomberg, as someone who created his own fortune, provided a role model for those in the community seeking to rise above their social environment.”That means building enterprise and building skills to support yourself,” the former congressman said, noting that the mayor had not pandered to any one segment of the population. “As their needs developed, he took care of them.”With a congregation of 18,000 and a large non-profit network, Greater Allen Cathedral and its pastor represent a strong presence in southeast Queens, one of several neighborhoods where Bloomberg is expected to court black voters for the coming race. The mayor won only 25 percent of the black vote in 2001, and analysts have said he needs more support from the community this year in order to meet the large Hispanic turnout expected for former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, an early Democratic frontrunner.Other potential challengers include City Councilman Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn), U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Rockaway), Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields (D) and Council Speaker Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan). In initial head-to-head matchups, Bloomberg would beat everyone except Ferrer, who would capture 51 percent of the vote to his 39 percent, according to a poll released Dec. 14 by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion in upstate New York. In the same sampling, only 36 percent of blacks gave the mayor a favorable rating.After word of Flake's support leaked last week, Bloomberg said at an unrelated Woodhaven news conference that “he's a very influential endorsement. If he chose to endorse me, I'd be thrilled.”The actual announcement came Sunday after Flake's sermon and took place at the Allen Community Senior Citizens Center across from the church at 111-54 Merrick Blvd. The city helped Greater Allen acquire the center's land, set aside since 1963 for urban renewal, and made sure the zoning would allow for the community facility. The city also provided $1.8 million in housing funds when the church came up slightly short in its quest to begin building a $17.5 million project next year across from the church on Merrick Boulevard that will feature 58 residential units and a blocklong lower-level space for retailers.During the announcement Flake thanked Bloomberg for both projects, but in the later interview this week emphasized that no deal was made and that he had initiated the endorsement, not the mayor.”With the city's participation it made it possible to get it done,” he said. “That was not a part of any trade-off.”Flake said the church had undertaken $92 million worth of renewal projects in the community.”The record speaks for itself,” he said.Matthew Monks contributed to this report.Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.