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Hillary attacks Rudy on education in Queens

If last weekend's Democratic Party luncheon was any indication, school overcrowding may become First Lady Hillary Clinton's most effective political weapon against Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in Queens, where he has enjoyed broad support among middle-class voters.

At the annual luncheon of the Women's Democratic Executive Committee Saturday, Clinton and her supporters launched a full-on campaign against the mayor, her likely candidate in the 2000 U.S. Senate race. While touching on almost every reliable Democratic campaign theme, Clinton honed in on education, the issue where she may have a significant advantage over Giuliani.

Introducing the dominant theme of Clinton's speech, Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village) said Giuliani, "the other person who wants the job, cut $4 billion from our budget for school construction."

Clark was referring to the budget negotiations in 1994 during Giuliani's first term as mayor. The city Board of Education had proposed a $7.8 billion capital plan in 1993 to fund new school construction and repair, but the city agreed to fund only $3.4 billion. As a result, new school buildings have not kept pace with the growing student population, and every district in the borough is expected to exceed 100 percent capacity within the next several years.

Assemblywoman Vivian Cook (D-South Ozone Park) gave the New York City Democratic Party credit for turning the tide in favor of Bill Clinton during the 1992 presidential race and promised to do the same for Hillary Clinton's 2000 senate campaign.

"We are going to send Rudy packing," she said.

Queens Democratic party boss Tom Manton pointed to the nearly 500 Democratic faithful gathered at Antun's restaurant in Queens Village and pledged their organizational support to Clinton's campaign.

"What you see arrayed before you is our secret weapon," he said.

Taking the stage to the tune of "New York, New York," Clinton first thanked the Queens Democratic Party for its support of her husband in 1992 and 1996.

"Because Queens backed Bill Clinton, Bill Clinton has been a very successful president," she said.

She then tackled Giuliani's record on education: in addition to the cuts in funding, she criticized him for having dismissed two otherwise popular schools chancellors, Ramon Cortines and Rudy Crew. Clinton contrasted it with her own experience as an advocate for teacher testing in Arkansas and as chair of the Children's Defense Fund.

Clinton said her background prepared her for Queens, and she described touring schools in the borough with Borough President Claire Shulman.

"When I go through the schools of Queens, I see how overcrowded they are," she said. "She taught me about the need that Queens faces because of overcrowding."

Clinton promised to fight for federal money to fund school construction and to make college tuition tax deductible. Except for a special promise to seek funding for research on breast cancer, the remainder of the speech held few surprises: pledges to bring Queens more police officers, fewer guns and a higher minimum wage.

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