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Beep says city needs its own liquor regulator

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Borough President Claire Shulman with the aid of two Queens state lawmakers is pushing for an independent city alcohol regulatory agency that would have the power to swiftly close down chronically lawless bars and clubs in Queens.

The new agency would be independent of the State Liquor Authority, which continues to license some of the borough’s most notorious bars, said Shulman and other officials at a task force meeting at Borough Hall Friday.

Police from each of the borough’s precincts gathered around a table with Shulman and elected officials, reeling off the names of bars in Astoria, Forest Hills, Flushing, Jamaica, Bayside and many other sites in Queens that have continually been a source of illegal activity.

Although police reports of violations and arrests are routinely forwarded to Albany, the State Liquor Authority has repeatedly failed to revoke licenses of New York City establishments, the police contended.

In Queens, underage drinking, the sale of marijuana, high noise levels and urinating on lawns have gone unchecked at bars for years by the state agency, officers said.

“They have very broad discretionary power,” said Capt. Kevin Grasing, head of the Queens Vice Squad, about the State Liquor Authority. “But I think if disciplinary actions are handled on a local level, we can respond to the needs of the community.”

State Sen. Serphin Maltese (R-Glendale) and state Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Rockaway Beach) with the staunch backing of Shulman are proposing a bill to allow New York City and other large cities to secede from the state agency and implement their own.

Melinda Katz, director of community boards for the borough president, said much of the enforcement footwork was already undertaken by city agencies — the police, the Department of Health, the Buildings Department — and yet the revenue for the licenses was going straight into state coffers.

“They’re not going to give up turf voluntarily,” Maltese warned about the State Liquor Authority’s likely reaction to the proposed bill.

“The important thing is we’re going to take away their revenue- producing stream, and that is what we want to threaten them with,” he said.

Similar bills have been proposed in the past but never received the support from the Legislature, Maltese said. In recent years Maltese and Pheffer have advanced in seniority in the Legislature and “as a result have a more powerful position to effect change,” Maltese said.

The senator asked community board leaders to send letters of support for the bill directly to the governor and gave his address.

“I’m not saying the governor is unresponsive, but letters would buttress the argument,” he said.

The lawmakers plan to host a hearing in Queens the week of July 9, during which leaders from the State Liquor Authority would be subpoenaed if necessary to attend. Pheffer and Maltese urged community board leaders to publicize the hearing and to pack the room with residents.

Reach reporter Jennifer Warren by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.

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