2005-05-20 / Columnists

Simon says...

Lew M. SimonLew M. Simon

From the Desk of Lew M. Simon, Democratic District Leader, 23 rd A.D. Part B

We would like to invite everyone to our Democratic mayoral forum on Thursday May 26 at 7:45 p.m. sharp. Our great speakers will be Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields who will discuss her efforts to improve life in Manhattan and her mayoral platform. Come one, come all. Congressman Anthony Weiner has also been invited to discuss his campaign for mayor. 

Bagels and cream cheese courtesy of Beach Bagels, cake donated by Key Food of Rockaway Park and coffee by Wendy’s. We are located at the Good Government Regular Democratic Club, 112-20 Beach Channel Drive, Rockaway Park, opposite Waldbaum’s parking lot.

Thursday, May 12, was a dynamic, powerhouse meeting at our Good Government Regular Democratic Club headquarters. At approximately 8:20 PM Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum arrived to address our packed audience. Prior to her speaking she sat and listened to our dilemma on beach and boardwalk access issues. She heard our demands for lifeguard protection from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and use of the boardwalk throughout the evening. 

Betsy, who is a former Parks Commissioner, thought it would be easy to correct. She said that she would speak to Dorothy Lewandowski, who is Queens Parks Commissioner. Betsy told us that during her tenure as Parks Commissioner, she had hired and promoted Dotty. She thought that harassment of people using the beach was terrible. The best compromise would leave everyone a little happy and a little unhappy.

Among the members who spoke at the meeting was a 10 year resident of Belle Harbor. He retired after 40 years with the Fire Department in Brooklyn and Manhattan. He told of harassment on the beach. Betsy said that she would look into the problem. We said we would back the candidate who backs us on the issues.

Gotbaum spoke of the work of her office as an ombudsman. People call her office for help with problems with city services. A survivor of domestic violence called to complain that she was about to be thrown out of a shelter because had not moved to an apartment. The available apartments were not suitable. Betsy said that she contacted two commissioners to solve this citywide problem. She is the watchdog over city services while the comptroller is the watchdog over money programs.

After Betsy said that she supported the educational reforms that made the mayor responsible for public education, a local educator told us that the suspension policy was not working. Students who create turmoil are being sent back to their home schools. The school administration was told to slow down on suspensions.

Gotbaum said she is working to improve the system. She said that she would protect her sources of information. Betsy told us that after pressure the mayor put more money into special education. Comptroller William Thompson, who had just arrived, joined in the discussion of education. He announced that the United Federation of Teachers had endorsed the Public Advocate and himself for reelection. The Comptroller said that he had no opponents at this time, but six men were running for Public Advocate. (The UFT has made no endorsement for mayor)

Thompson told us that he has heard from teachers and principals who are demoralized by the rules imposed by this mayor and chancellor and were going to leave to get jobs in the suburbs. 

We reminded the Public Advocate of our support for reopening the Rockaway Beach line for direct service to midtown Manhattan. Betsy told us how she sued the MTA because after they raised the fare, it sold a piece of property to the JETS for less than it was worth.

Betsy was dynamic and energetic . She also mentioned that she and her husband were looking for a place to stay for two or three weeks in Rockaway this summer. Her husband, Victor Gotbaum, is the former Director of DC 37.   

The next speaker Bill Thompson, is an excellent speaker, a man of great knowledge and a likely candidate for mayor in 2009, if the Democratic candidate doesn’t defeat Mayor Bloomberg this year.

Thompson reminded us of his appearances at our club in 1999, 2001 and 2003. He feels that New York City is better now because the people are stronger than ever. He enjoys his job which includes registering contracts, approving legal settlements, auditing agencies, enforcing prevailing wage rates on city contracts and serving on the board of five city pension funds, which have assets of over $85 billion.

The Comptroller is proud of his audit of the Transit Authority. When they announced a fare increase, Thompson  found that they had never been audited. He found that he did not have the legal power to audit the MTA, but asked his predecessor Alan Hevesi, to get involved. Hevesi audited the MTA. They compared notes and found that the MTA really had a $600 million surplus. A State Supreme Court Justice ordered a fare rollback, but the appellate court overruled him. The MTA was forced to change its budget procedures and now is accountable to the public.

Talking of his days as President of the Board of Education, Thompson recalled how he felt when Rudy Giuliani said that he wanted to blow up the Board of Education. He praised the work of Rudy Crew and Harold Levy. They started to build credibility in the budget process, but the current chancellor has made the system so cloudy we can’t see how they are spending money.

Thompson is fighting for the Meals on Wheels program which brings hot meals to homebound seniors. The mayor has proposed to replace them with weekly deliveries of frozen dinners. Thompson feels that the cost of caring for the neglected seniors would increase.

The Comptroller said that he did not have the legal power to audit the Port Authority. These authorities were set up to avoid public control. He thought the governors of New York and New Jersey would be in a position to change their policies.

Thompson said that the Department of Education had overspent its budget by $250 million. They have been unable to account for some of it. He feels that Bloomberg has good intentions, but doesn’t know about Chancellor Klein. Reading and math scores are flat, while Social Studies scores have dropped off the table. This school administration is more about form than substance and there is no board to oversee the chancellor.

We are saddened by the death of an outstanding individual who we think should be a saint. Msgr. William Burke was first assigned as a parish priest in 1951. He showed his devotion to youth at St. Camillus by founding the St. Camillus Band.

He and his band have performed for presidents and popes alike and through his efforts has turned out fine productive members of society. These people have become part of the heart and soul of this community and nation.

  In 1995 we submitted a volume with 862 signatures on a petition to Community Board 14 requesting the renaming of Beach 100 Street as  Msgr. Burke Place. This is the most appropriate place to honor a man who devoted most of his life to our community. The volume included letters of support from Rockaway Council 2672 Knights of Columbus and Father James Dunne, pastor of St. Camillus.

In 1995 they could not rename the street because the city does not allow renaming for a living person. In light of Msgr. Burke’s passing we once again requested the renaming at Community Board 14 on last Tuesday.

Msgr. Burke will definitely be missed, but he will not be forgotten. We feel God needed a special saint in heaven. As Msgr. Burke told another great man, Joseph O’Connell, “If you die in Rockaway, you go straight to heaven.”  

  On Saturday evening we attended the Beach Channel H.S. concert featuring the Concert Band, Gospel Choir, Jazz Band and Dance club. We’d like to give a special thanks to one of their teachers who volunteered her time with me to sell tickets. Angelica Meja traveled by public transportation. If that’s not a dedicated teacher.

We are currently seeking registered Democrats willing to work as Election Inspectors and Spanish interpreters on Primary Day and Election Day. The pay is $200 for each day, with additional for taking a class and for working both days. Call my office, we need to hear from you now. We also need to hear from registered Democrats who are willing to solicit signatures for nominating petitions for the Democratic slate.          

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