Melinda Katz emerged from a bruising Democratic primary season in September as the overwhelming favorite to win Tuesday’s election for Queens borough president against Republican Tony Arcabascio.
But last week she said that she is taking nothing for granted.
“I’m not measuring the drapes [for the office] yet,” Katz said at a meeting with the Queens Chronicle’s editorial board last week.
“I’ve learned that when you do, you can lose what you’re going for,” she said. “We still have a ground game out there. We’re still trying to get to all of the Democratic clubs, which is hard.”
Katz believes that the borough president heeds to be the chief advocate for Queens. She has been stressing her experience in and knowledge of government built up over 20 years as her chief selling point, something she said makes her far more qualified than Arcabascio to deliver the funding, development and jobs and other things she said are needed for the residents.
“You have to know how to get things done,” she said.
Katz’s priorities for the borough all cost money in a city that has projected deficits of more than $4 million over the next three years. Still, she says, a borough with 2.3 million residents who speak more than 160 languages has been shortchanged when it comes to city funding for education, healthcare, transportation and cultural expenditures.
And she said her eight years as chairwoman of the Council’s Land Use Committee saw the city add development and jobs while protecting residential neighborhoods.
One of the most important picks the next borough president makes will be Queens’ member on the Panel on Educational Policy, which now is dominated by Mayor Bloomberg’s appointees. Katz said she does not have a specific person in mind.
“But it is going to be an educator, probably a teacher. It has to be someone who knows the education system,” she said.
Katz has problems in general with charter schools, believing they take resources away from needy students in existing schools, some of which are troubled.
Co-locations, she said, ultimately doomed students at Jamaica High School, where her father taught music, after the city steadily reduced funding, programs and student population. It is set to close next year while four other schools continue to occupy the building.
But she said that the decades-old formula of pouring financial resources into failing schools needs to be re-examined in some cases.
“Sometimes money alone isn’t the answer,” she acknowledged.
In regard to the ongoing fight in parts of the borough to curb increasing airplane noise, she said things like the Port Authority’s plans to relocate a runway closer to populated areas will almost certainly take place eventually.
“The borough president can’t stop that,” Katz said. “She can fight for the best deal possible for the residents.”
Katz, who has two children with Guardian Angels founder and radio host Curtis Sliwa, has been trading accusations with Arcabascio over just who is the candidate of New York City’s “1 percent” crowd.
Arcabascio pointed out in a debate on Queens Public Television that Katz has raked in donations from well-heeled New Yorkers, and is one herself.
It was not the attack she says she expected as the daughter of a music teacher from Wisconsin and an immigrant mother from Canada — both of whom she lost before she was 22 — though her father founded the Queens Symphony Orchestra and her mother the Queens Council for the Arts.
“I graduated from college and went to law school. Paid for it myself,” she said. “I’m raising my sons as the third generation in the house where I grew up ... Maybe that’s a sign that my parents made it that I’m being called a 1-percenter.”