By Bill Parry
Borough President Melinda Katz delivered a new slogan during her first State of the Borough Address on Jan. 22. “If it’s good for families, it’s good for Queens,” Katz repeated throughout her speech to a packed audience at Colden Auditorium at Queens College.
As elected officials, civic officials and invited guests began to fill the 2,100 seats, a slide show projected positive images of her leadership along with an upbeat soundtrack including “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now,” the 1979 classic by McFadden & Whitehead. Katz went on to state her case for Queens being a borough on the move.
From reorganizing and reforming the Queens Library after its removal of President Tom Galante to celebrating the twin anniversaries of the 1964 and 1939 World’s Fairs, including her work with the mayor and the City Council to raise millions for the renovation of the New York State Pavilion that has fallen into disrepair after “years of neglect and disinvestment.”. Katz spoke of tourism and the travel magazine The Lonely Planet designating Queens as the top destination in the United States this year along with MSNMoney, Conde’ Nast Traveler, TimeOut New York and Streeteasy.com all agreeing that Queens is hot and on the move.
“We don’t have to claim to be the center of the universe, but we are without a doubt the intersection of the world,” Katz said. She cited the borough’s cultural diversity. Of the 2.2 million residents, nearly half were born outside the United States.
“Both new arrivals and long-established families create the communities which make it uniquely attractive, for visitors and investors alike,” Katz said. “And like generations before them, they come here to work hard and raise their children as Americans.”
She spoke of job creation and Kennedy and LaGuardia airports as engines of economic growth, but she said there are challenges ahead, including affordable housing. Katz urged the city Housing Authority to create 2,500 public housing units in the coming year, up from a proposed 750 citywide. She called for more universal pre-K locations, more Gifted & Talented programs, more investment in higher education, especially in CUNY and she noted, at great length, how she is no fan of Common Core.
“It’s not common core, it’s more like a common problem,” she said.
Katz boasted that Queens has some of the best school districts in the entire city.
“It’s remarkable because our school districts rank among the highest overcrowding rates across the city,” she said. “Some of our schools are at over 200 percent capacity. Yet despite this, our schools manage to boast some of the highest graduation rates and lowest dropout rates.”
There was a moment of controversy when the borough president voiced her opposition to term limits for community board members despite the presence of the City Council legislation’s main sponsor in the audience.
“I noticed most of the applause came from community board members sitting right up front.” City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) said. “I believe in term limits and I think it’s important that we do it because the power that community boards have needs to be limited. It’s a good-government issue and changing things up brings good results. Just look at Albany.”