By Bob Friedrich
As the new year begins, I like to create a civic-themed “wish list” in the hope that lawmakers may have an epiphany and aspire to fulfill these wishes. I have kept the list brief this year, hoping to improve my chances of success.
1. Plead for common sense and sanity at the city Department of Transportation.
Last week another vehicle fatality occurred at the base of the Queensboro Bridge, where a traffic officer was killed. The outer roadway on the Queens-bound side as it exits the bridge rarely saw an accident until the DOT decided to change the configuration of this single, stand-alone lane.
Since then serious accidents have become a regular occurrence. Rather than restore the roadway to its previous “safe” configuration, DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan decided to take this much-needed lane permanently out of service each night.
This closure represents a 20 percent capacity reduction of all Queens-bound lanes on the bridge. The result of this ill-conceived decision will be more traffic, headaches and time lost and another good lane rendered useless by our bike-worshipping commissioner and nemesis of city motorists.
In 2014, my wish is that Mayor Bill de Blasio selects a DOT commissioner who will bring common sense and sanity to the overtaxed and over-tolled motoring public.
2. If you can reach it, you can prune it.
In 2013, we saw too many individuals being injured by fallen tree limbs. The time has come to bring sanity and common sense to the city Parks Department and end the criminalization of tree-pruning homeowners who wish to maintain the city’s neglected street trees in front of their homes.
After all, they have a vested interest in keeping their sidewalks and water and sewer lines from cracking and having branches fall onto their properties, causing damage and injury to people. The Parks Department’s failure to modify its rules has made outlaws out of responsible homeowners who want to prune dangerous branches.
My 2014 wish: If you can reach, you can prune it without a permit.
3. Prohibit politicians from using campaign funds to pay their legal fees.
Using taxpayer-provided campaign funds to pay for lawyers so politicians can defend themselves against charges of corruption or malfeasance is grossly inappropriate.
Let’s stop that practice and, while we are it, let’s garnish the wages of politicians who refuse to pay fines imposed for illegally plastering campaign signs on public property.
Ex-city Comptroller John Liu has used legal technicalities for years to avoid paying his $500,000 penalty.
4. End the inherent conflict of interest between government and public sector unions.
Whose interests are served when politicians who use union contributions and union manpower to get elected are the same politicians negotiating those same union contracts with the city?
As long as politicians are allowed to accept money and resources from unions to get elected, the taxpayer’s interest is not being served. Are you listening, de Blasio?
5. A cure for political correctness and racial politics.
Let’s resist the urge to play the race and ethnic blame game in every incident involving individuals of different racial backgrounds. Let’s refrain from calling others racist because they disagree with your point of view.
Racial politics is insidious and inflammatory and silences open debate and mutual understanding, especially when it is done by politicians. Whenever the urge strikes to reduce a situation to racial labels, stop and think about how many people you happily interacted with today who were not the same color, nationality or religion as you.
My 2014 wish is that we all resist the media-driven impulse to define people and their actions by these labels.
Bob Friedrich is president of Glen Oaks Village and a civic leader.