Mayor Michael Bloomberg stopped by the Esquire Diner on Cross Bay Boulevard in Ozone Park Monday morning for a 30-minute chat with reporters that covered everything from the rezoning of Hamilton Beach to his childhood baseball rooting in the hours before the Mets’ home opener.
Bloomberg, nibbling on matzos with cream cheese and salt in observance of Passover, reiterated his promise to return to Hamilton Beach within one month to outline a plan to rezone the streets there, if such a plan is legal. The mayor said he has consulted his Corporation Counsel and representatives from multiple city agencies to determine whether the neighborhood can be rezoned without new state legislation.
Residents cannot renovate homes in the area because a defunct redevelopment plan prevents homeowners from building on land that has been earmarked for new streets. The plan has never been implemented, and even the mayor is not sure he can simply discard it. “What you can do, I don’t know. Everyone else has to weigh in. Whether you can do it without a state law change, we don’t know,” he said.
But on another local issue, the overreporting of nonexistent housing violations in Ozone Park, the mayor was mum. The Queens Chronicle reported last week that inspectors from the Department of Buildings visited Katie Acton’s house on 105th Streets 14 times since November—including once at 2:05 a.m.—and inspected her basement three times for illegal residents.
The city implemented strict rules for inspecting homes where there may be illegal residents in 2000, but the new 311 system has made logging anonymous complaints easy. The DOB is required by law to investigate every complaint.
The mayor reiterated the city’s policy but said, “our laws should not be used to settle personal vendettas.” When asked what recourse residents who feel they may be targeted have, he said, “I don’t know.”
In College Point, Little Leaguers will take to the fields soon, as the mayor announced that the College Point Sports Complex will open on Saturday, April 17th. The complex has been under construction for years, and has been at the center of a scandal involving Councilman Tony Avella, who has announced he is considering a run for mayor.
Avella, the former head of the College Point Sports Association, allowed the company Enviro-Fill to dump landfill material at the site for two years. Enviro-Fill was charged with using illegal materials in the landfill and the project has stalled for seven years. The city is now suing the Sports Association and Enviro-Fill.
Bloomberg also addressed the city’s new lease with the Port Authority for Kennedy and LaGuardia Airports, and in doing so, praised the borough president for helping the city negotiate a lucrative agreement. The new leases will bring the city $90 million more than the previous ones.
“It’s a very good deal for the city. I give credit to Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff and Helen Marshall. There’s nothing that’s going to slow it down or hold it up,” he said. “Your borough president is someone who is a doer. Helen is somebody who works to get things done rather than get a photo opportunity.”
Bloomberg and Marshall have worked together on many projects but have disagreed notably on one—his plan to end social promotion in the third grade of public schools. Marshall, a former teacher, has said she believes holding students back should be the last option.
The mayor nonetheless beamed about the plan, calling it the “best thing that ever happened” during his tenure. “Parents are sitting down and saying, ‘I have to spend time with my children so they pass the third grade,’” he said.
Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein have argued that underachieving students should not be promoted past third grade because fourth grade is when applied learning using math and reading skills—which are taught until third grade—begins. The city has appropriated $33 million for summer school programs this year.
“I can sure tell you what we’re doing is working. The objective is to teach kids as fast as we can, as effectively as we can,” Bloomberg said.
Finally, the mayor weighed in on two major issues for the large immigrant communities of Western Queens—the proposed measure to extend local voting rights to legal aliens and the ongoing feud between police and day laborers in Jackson Heights.
Bloomberg called voting “the essence of citizenship. If you want to vote, become a citizen. When you become a citizen, you swear to defend the country or even to die.” But he favors extending some legal and social rights to immigrants. “Let’s include people in society rather than exclude them,” he said.
He said the day laborers situation was tricky because, while a meeting between the police and workers may smooth over some issues, many of the workers are afraid to meet with the police because they are not legal immigrants. “You can’t have it both ways. We’re always in this conundrum that we want to help people and they’re here.”
The mayor proved prescient, too, when he predicted the Mets would win Monday. They prevailed by a 10-6 score. During the interview, he said he was not much of a baseball fan growing up in Boston but enjoyed watching the Celtics basketball team.