No one would say 2008 was the best of times in Queens, but overall it wasn’t the worst of times either. There’s no escaping the economic crisis, and our borough has suffered more than its fair share of home foreclosures, especially in southeastern Queens. The rate of new foreclosure actions actually fell over the last two months, but that’s just because state law is delaying them. There’s no real improvement in sight.
On the jobs front, Queens is actually a little better off than the rest of the city, state and nation. The latest reliable unemployment figures, those for this past November, were 5.6 percent for Queens, 6.3 percent for the city, 6.1 percent for the state and 6.7 percent for the nation.
That’s not to say people here didn’t suffer from job losses in 2008; of course many did, but on the whole, communities elsewhere seem to be worse off.
Beyond the pocketbook issues, however, were the political issues. Many who represent Queens — or who did when 2008 began — did not make us proud.
There was Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio, charged with taking bribes in a case where the evidence includes wiretap recordings made by another bribe-taking former assemblyman, Brian McLaughlin.
There was Councilman Dennis Gallagher, who admitted to sexually abusing a woman he picked up at a bar. She had a different word for it: rape.
Then there’s Sen.-elect Hiram Monserrate, also a councilman, alleged to have cut his girlfriend’s face up with broken glass. Like many women who report abuse, she later changed her story to say it was an accident. Maybe that’s true — we all know how easy it is to cut your face to the extent you need 20 stitches. Just like stubbing a toe.
And of course we can’t forget our former governor. At least his disrespect for women was consensual.
Meanwhile our elected officials who actually do spend some time doing the public’s work gave Queens a mixed bag last year.
The mayor and City Council got moving on the Willets Point redevelopment plan, which will clean up an eyesore so notorious for so long that it was featured in the iconic American novel, “The Great Gatsby,” back in 1925.
Calling the project overdue is putting it nicely. On the other hand, we hope the city will lend assistance to those honest blue-collar businesses it is kicking out of the area to make way for a convention center, hotel, housing and other shiny new stuff.
Development throughout Queens moved forward for most of the year — generally a good thing as any further hit to commerce is the last thing we want. We do worry there may be more hotels going up than the market warrants, and we want neighborhood character protected in places as diverse as Forest Hills and Bellerose, where it is under pressure — but we don’t want to slow legitimate progress and job creation.
Commercial enterprise and the individuals who engage in it — everyone — are taking a hard enough hit as it is. And we’ll suffer more with the increased taxes the city, state and MTA are planning —the most egregious being the new so-called “mobility tax” the transit agency wants to impose on businesses, and the “obesity tax” the governor wants for non-diet soft drinks. Give us a break.
Thankfully it’s not elected officials’ wisdom, or lack thereof, that makes Queens the great place it is. It’s the people: our communities, our diversity, our relationships and above all our families. Families can be strong in tough times —just ask those who lived through the Depression. We hope yours hangs in there through all the disappointments and all the nonsense yet to come, and we wish you a very Happy New Year.