2007-12-14 / Community

Smith:Dems Will Restore Faith,Hope And Trust

State Senator Visits Wave For Wide-Ranging Interview
By Howard Schwach

State Senator Malcolm Smith at The Wave offices on Tuesday. State Senator Malcolm Smith at The Wave offices on Tuesday. Charging that the Senate Republicans have destroyed the credibility of that body, Senator Malcolm Smith came to The Wave on Tuesday morning for an hour-long discussion of the issues impacting Rockaway in the coming years.

"The Republicans do one thing right," the Democratic Minority Leader said. "They know how to divide people - downstate and upstate, New York City and Long Island, all sorts of people."

He hopes to change all that when the Democrats become the majority in the State Senate, something that will take only two additional Democratic wins in the 2008 election, something that he believes is a realistic goal, even after 43 years of Republican control.

"We gained three seats in '04 and two seats in '06," he said. "We are on track for gaining two more in '08 and taking over the Senate."

If the Democrats do gain the majority, Smith would become the third most powerful politician in the state, behind only Governor Eliot Spitzer and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, both of whom are Democrats, as well.

"We're going to make a different tone in Albany," he said. "We are going to restore faith that we will mean what we say, hope that the future will be brighter and trust that we really can reach our goals."

Smith says that his agenda includes such hot-button issues as education, property taxes, economic growth and transportation.

He likes the concept of mayoral control of the public school system, because, he says, "somebody has to be accountable for the success or failure of the system."

However, he does not like what is happening in the public schools today under Chancellor Joel Klein and the No Child Left Behind Act.

"The concept is OK, but they seem to have left out parental involvement and actual education," the Senator said. "Teaching to the test is not the answer."

He lists transportation as one of the most important issues facing Rockaway.

"People are not going to come here to live if there is no way for them to get off the peninsula, to get to work," he said, touting the reestablishment of the long-unused "White Pot Junction Line" once utilized by the Long Island Railroad as a right of way between Rockaway and Manhattan; that ride that would cut 30 minutes off a oneway commute to Manhattan for Rockaway residents.

He thinks that a commuter ferry would also be a plus, as long as it was tied in with stops at JFK Airport and other destinations on the way to Manhattan.

"There are lots of jobs at the airport, and Rockaway people should have a direct way to get to those jobs."

The Wave has been editorializing for term limits for state elected officials that are similar to those faced by the city's elected officials.

Smith does not like the idea.

"With term limits you get elected officials chasing their next office, like you see now with city council members and others," he said. "You always have to question their motives and everybody is so new that your government is run by bureaucrats, rather than those you elected to office."

Smith says that he is not chasing another elected position. When asked about the rumor that, should Hillary Clinton get the nomination, Congressman Gregory Meeks would move to the Senate and Smith would move to the House of Representatives, he laughed.

"That's not something I'm interested in," he said. "I'm going to stay right here in the Senate."

He thinks that Democratic control of both houses of the legislature, should it come in 2008, will make a big difference - for the better.

"The big question is who draws the lines [in redistricting during 2010]," he said. "If we draw the lines, you won't get all those strange districts that don't make any sense. Instead, you'll get districts that are boxes or circles, districts that correspond to the Community Board districts."

Smith held a news conference on Thursday to announce a new proposal that will bring economic development and job training to the state, as well as to Rockaway.

The plan is called "RightNY," and it will bring $5 to $7 billion worth of job creation.

He hopes that the plan will generate between 25,000 and 70,000 jobs.

The money will be allocated by regional boards made up of elected officials, business people and the community.

It will target such problems as the infrastructure, transportation, health care and technical training.

He says that reforming government, making the legislature more transparent and user friendly, is his goal. He wants the resurrection of committees and hearings held throughout the state, rather than in Albany. He wants to make the government more accessible to the people it governs.

It's all really simple, he says. One plus one always equals two. If it doesn't, then there is some explaining that needs to be done."

A Rockaway native, Smith hopes to see the Arverne By The Sea project revitalize Rockaway.

Housing brings schools, which brings commercial buildings and stores, which brings recreation and parks and a better life, he said.

"We are still in the first phase," he added. "The best is yet to come."

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