For an hour last Thursday, the people of College Point and surrounding towns got a rare insight into the workings of city government. For a brief moment, the curtains were pulled back on the massive bureaucracy that governs and serves nearly 7 million people as Mayor Giuliani conducted his 76th town hall meeting at PS 129Q in College Point.
Except for an emotional standing ovation for the mayor, who announced earlier in the day that he had prostate cancer, this town hall was much like the 75 others that preceded it. There were the usual requests for more speed humps on dangerous roads and the complaints about the Sanitation Department. Why must the trucks roll by at 3 in the morning? Why doesn't someone take better care of the brakes on these trucks?
As has become his custom at these meetings, the mayor invited a great many of the questioners to come to the front of the room to speak with a deputy mayor or one of the agency commissioners. Not wanting to appear like slackers in front of the boss, the commissioners promised to look into each problem personally and immediately. People who, prior to that evening, couldn't get past the receptionist for the assistant assistant suddenly found themselves talking with people who wield tremendous power.
The cynic might say this is government by lottery. After all, only a lucky few actually get to ask a question at a town hall meeting. In many cases, large numbers of people can't even get into the auditorium. But it would be fairer to say that the town hall meetings are an important step in the right direction. The people of Queens need only think back to the Dinkins and Koch years when Manhattan was the center of the metropolis.
As the audience listened to the questions on Thursday night, they could see how very difficult it is to balance the demands of competing interests. For example, several people stood up to protest the tearing down of older one-family homes to make room for buildings with four or more apartment units. The questioners said College Point was being destroyed and they demanded that zoning changes be made immediately. At the same time, other College Point residents decried the lack of affordable housing in northeast Queens. Both groups spoke with a sense of great urgency.
One of the most poignant moments of the evening came when a man who recently had heart surgery described how he and his wife were forcibly evicted from what more than likely was an illegal apartment conversion.
It is, of course, impossible for city planners to encourage the development of affordable housing without stepping on the toes of homeowners. Suddenly the running of this city does not look so easy.
No one believes or expects that the problems facing College Point, or any other community for that matter, can be resolved in one hourlong meeting. The best that can be hoped for is that a few small problems can be solved and that behind the endless forms an recorded messages there are real people who sincerely want this government to work.
©2000 Community News Group
By submitting this comment, you agree to the following terms:
You agree that you, and not TimesLedger.com or its affiliates, are fully responsible for the content that you post. You agree not to post any abusive, obscene, vulgar, slanderous, hateful, threatening or sexually-oriented material or any material that may violate applicable law; doing so may lead to the removal of your post and to your being permanently banned from posting to the site. You grant to TimesLedger.com the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual and fully sublicensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part world-wide and to incorporate it in other works in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.