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Queens Chronicle

Onorato’s successor?

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Posted: Thursday, February 4, 2010 12:00 am

Gianaris outlines goals for Senate run, promises fiscal prudence

For the first time in 30 years, there is no incumbent for the state Senate race in District 12, since Sen. George Onorato (D-Astoria) isn’t running for re-election. The moment Onorato announced his decision, Mike Gianaris, a Democrat from Astoria who has served in the state Assembly for 10 years, threw in his hat for the seat.

So far, Gianaris is the only declared candidate, and if elected, he would represent Astoria, Long Island City, Sunnyside and parts of neighboring areas. Last week, he visited the Queens Chronicle for an interview about his accomplishments and goals for office.

As an assemblyman, Gianaris has fought against the construction of power plants in Astoria, pushed for Con Edison to improve its reliability and spearheaded tougher security measures at various facilities. As a senator, he hopes to help get the state back on sound financial footing, work to improve relations with colleagues across the aisle and continue efforts to make his district greener and more pleasant.

On the economic front, Gianaris stressed the need for fiscal prudence and said that although painful cuts are inevitable, they are apt to be less devastating if carefully planned. The assemblyman was the only Democrat from downstate to vote against the budget last year, arguing that the state would run out of money — which it did. The resulting last-minute cuts, which were decided in a special legislative session, would have been easier to stomach if they had been announced from the start, Gianaris said.

Balancing the budget this year will require a mixture of reducing spending and increasing revenue, the assemblyman said. But the emphasis must be on the former. As for raising taxes, Gianaris said, “We squeezed the last water out of the sponge on that last year.”

Schools, medical facilities and other services will all have to cope with smaller budgets, he said, adding that, “It’s not pleasant; nobody likes to do it. … But the facts are the facts, and we don’t have the money.”

Not all reductions have to hurt the public, though.

Among the cost-cutting measures Gianaris proposes is consolidating the hours that non-essential state employees work. Instead of working eight-hour days five days a week, they should work 10-hour days four days a week, he said. Based on numbers from states which have tried similar measures, Gianaris estimates the move could save New York tens of millions of dollars each year on energy and maintenance costs.

He added that it’s “something that the workers enjoy and support, the public enjoys and supports … and it’s also good for the environment.”

The reason it hasn’t happened yet, he said, is just “typical Albany inertia.”

Inertia is perhaps the least of the complaints that have been levelled against the state legislature — especially the Senate — in recent months. After state Senators Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst) and Pedro Espada (D-Bronx) staged a coup last summer, overthrowing the Democratic leadership, the upper body plunged into a month-long stalemate during which no legislation was passed and party bickering ran rampant.

The hostility has to change, Gianaris said, adding that he would like minority party senators to receive chairmanship positions, especially if a narrow majority persists.

“You need both parties to be invested,” he said. “You need some level of power sharing.”

Asked about his proudest accomplishments in office, Gianaris pointed to the closing of the Charles Poletti power plant in Astoria. The 33-year-old oil-burning generator shut down last weekend, after years of agitation from local politicians and community members. Gianaris has been among a vocal group opposing new power plants in the neighborhood and pushing for old ones to close.

A less successful effort has been pushing for improvements in the city’s mass transit system. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Gianaris said, is not managing its money efficiently, which is why it is implementing “doomsday cuts” in services.

“It’s a bureaucracy run amok,” he said, adding that the MTA isn’t accountable to the people and has so many layers of management that complaints and suggestions often fall on deaf ears.

Another unresponsive behemoth is Con Ed, the assemblyman said, though he added that the power company has improved the grid in Long Island City this year. Since the major blackout of 2006, Gianaris has been calling for Con Ed to guarantee more reliable service.

“Any time my lights aren’t out for eight days straight, I’ll say they’ve done better than in 2006,” he said. “But they continue to be not as concerned as they should be. … They just consider public criticism part of the job.”

In 2007, Gianaris headed an Assembly task force which recommended that Con Ed be forced to face competition rather than operating as a monopoly. The panel also called for the utility to invest $20 million in grid updates in LIC.

Also in 2007, Gianaris introduced legislation which would require Con Ed to undergo a formal review every five years. Rigorous evaluation and the threat of competition, he believes, would prompt the utility to operate better.

Other measures Gianaris wants to enact include enhancing security in buses and subways, developing a list of high-priority infrastructure repair projects for the state and working to ensure that new construction in his district doesn’t overwhelm the area or eliminate its charm.

“Western Queens is still growing, which on the one hand is great for the economy, but on the other hand it’s changing the character of the neighborhood,” he said.

Gianaris, and — presumably — a republican opponent will be on the ballot in November.

Welcome to the discussion.