By Joe Anuta
Melinda Katz’s two decades in public service now seem like tailor-made preparations for the vacant borough president seat she is seeking, the former lawmaker recently told TimesLedger Newspapers.
Katz represented Forest Hills in the state Assembly from 1994-99, was then director of community boards under former Borough President Claire Shulman until 2002 and served in the City Council from 2002-09.
“I think people feel like they need an advocate who can not only advocate, but who also has the experience and the expertise to move the borough forward. I think everybody says they want to do these things,” she said in a sit-down interview. “I have shown that I can be effective.”
On the campaign trail, Katz has heard from Queens residents that land use, health care, education and cultural institutions are some of the major issues the next borough president needs to tackle.
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), City Councilmen Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) and Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) and Republican businessman Tony Arcabascio are also running for the seat.
One of Katz’s biggest bona fides is her stint as chairwoman of the Committee on Land Use, one of the most powerful positions in the Council.
The borough president does not have legislative power, as Katz did in the Council, but rather an advisory role on all variances and zoning, which the mother of two said she is prepared for.
“Most every major rezoning has a balance,” she said, citing as an example the 2007 Jamaica rezoning she helped usher through. It positioned the neighborhood’s commercial corridor for economic growth while downzoning the surrounding residential community to protect its character.
Katz sees development opportunities in western Queens, especially with a new technology campus setting up shop on Roosevelt Island that is expected to attract small startup companies. She also hopes to foster more affordable housing by offering tax incentives to developers, does not support the location of a possible soccer stadium in Flushing Meadows Corona Park and believes the United States Tennis Center has to do more for the community in order to gain a new piece of the park to add into its footprint.
Katz’s expertise in zoning applies to other areas as well.
“What I would like to see is more primary care facilities in the borough of Queens that are accessible to everyone,” she said.
The borough’s emergency rooms are bursting with people who treat it as a first stop for ailments that could be treated elsewhere.
Katz wants to find suitable locations where large hospitals like North Shore-LIJ or New York Hospital Queens, for example, can continue to build new facilities.
On education, she does not support the mayor’s policies of closing large high schools or co-location, where other institutions like charter schools share building space with their public counterparts.
The borough president is responsible for appointing the borough’s member of the Panel for Educational Policy, which nominally votes on the city’s education policies. Katz did not have anyone in mind yet, but said she would pick a member of the community who has had children go through the system before.
She would also like to alter the makeup of the panel, which is stacked with mayoral representatives who push through Bloomberg administration policies, to make it more equitable, but she does not support abolishing mayoral control in 2015.
Between her stint as a councilwoman and her current run, Katz worked as a mergers and acquisitions lawyer for international law firm Greenberg Traurig, where she was listed in the city’s database for lobbyists.
“I had a good job,” she said. “But I chose to be in public service. This is where I spent the majority of my adult life.”
Katz has garnered support from the Queens Democratic Party and a slew of borough elected officials while also snagging some high-profile nods from southeast Queens leaders, such as the Rev. Floyd Flake, of Greater Allen AME Cathedral, who picked her over Comrie, who currently represents part of the area in the Council.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.