Queens leaders blasé on State of City talk

Queens leaders blasé on State of City talk
Mayor Michael Bloomberg (r.) shakes hands with Councilman James Oddo, the Republican minority leader, as City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (c.) looks on at the mayor’s State of the City speech. Photo courtesy the mayor’s office
By Rebecca Henely

Mayor Michael Bloomberg touted Queens’ capital projects and announced his plan to bring the chance to hail a cab to the outer boroughs in his 2011 State of the City address, but the annual speech left some Queens legislators unimpressed.

Most of the address, delivered at Staten Island’s St. George Theatre Jan. 19, focused on job growth, pension reform and education in the city.

“That work of transforming the old and making it new, not to recover a bygone past, but to re-imagine a brighter future, lies at the heart of the challenges we face this year,” Bloomberg said in his speech.

In his 11th State of the City, Bloomberg mentioned projects throughout the five boroughs’ waterfronts which he said would spur jobs. In Queens, these included the Hunters Point South housing development, which will have 60 percent of its 5,000 units available for middle-class residents, and the planned renovation of Willets Point near Citi Field.

“Once the inspiration for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Valley of Ashes, we’ll begin building roadways and waterlines that will give rise to whole new neighborhoods with good jobs and affordable housing,” Bloomberg said, referring to the industrial wasteland that has become Willets Point.

The mayor also promised to create a new category of livery cars that can make on-street pickups in the outer boroughs, saying it was unfair that 97 percent of yellow cab pickups happen in Manhattan or at the airports in Queens.

“Whether you’re standing on 42nd Street in Manhattan or 42nd Street in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, or 42nd Street in Sunnyside, Queens, you ought to be able to hail a cab,” Bloomberg said.

In the parts of the speech that addressed the city at large, Bloomberg touted the job growth in the city, which outpaces the rest of the country, and said he would work to do more through the creation of increased business incubators and loan programs for minorities and women. He also said he would urge pension reform by raising the retirement age and the annual bonuses for retirees, reform education through allowing merit to come into consideration when choosing to lay off teachers and offer more mentor programs to keep kids off the streets and in schools.

The speech was praised by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who called the mayor’s agenda “innovative and realistic,” and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), who praised the address’ focus on the economy and job growth, but some Queens city councilmen were not as complimentary.

“The outer boroughs need more than livery cabs,” said Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) in a statement. “My district has one of the highest tax burdens in the city, but we don’t get the services to match.”

Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) released a more than 900-word statement in which he called the address “overly optimistic.” While he praised Bloomberg’s encouragement of businesses, especially for women and minorities, he criticized the mayor for not addressing the large number of foreclosures, for not acknowledging the gun violence and crime in southeast Queens and for touting the education system given city Schools Chancellor Cathie Black’s recent comment about overcrowding and the closing of Jamaica High School.

“Such platitudes by the mayor are as meaningful as seeing a Broadway play during a blizzard,” Comrie said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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