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Leffer vows to fight for more boro schools

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If everything works out for veteran City Councilman Sheldon Leffler (D-Hollis), his familiar face will become one of the most recognizable faces throughout Queens starting in January.

Leffler, who has served in the City Council for the last 24 years, is in the midst of a very tight race with former Board of Education President Carol Gresser and City Councilwoman Helen Marshall (D-East Elmhurst) to succeed longtime Queens icon Claire Shulman as borough president.

Shulman, who has run the borough since 1986, took over from Donald Manes after he committed suicide. She cannot seek a fifth term because of term limits.

Leffler, whose district stretches from Douglaston to Queens Village and from Glen Oaks to Hollis, stopped by the TimesLedger offices last Thursday to discuss issues on the minds of borough residents. He touched upon a wide variety of subjects ranging from education to immigration and from zoning to public transportation in addition to reflecting on a borough president’s power.

The councilman, a product of the public education system in Queens, said “it changed my life” but must be held accountable to educate the borough’s children.

“I think a system like the Board of Education needs stability, it needs good people and a good chancellor who is given the time to work things out,” he said. “You can’t rebuild the system overnight — it takes several years to make structural changes.”

Leffler said he favors making administrative job cuts and moving teachers back into the classroom where the student-teacher ratio is very high.

Once in Borough Hall, Leffler said he will fight for the construction of new schools and those now in the pipeline. The already planned schools could be in jeopardy because of the Board of Ed’s budget overruns. He said Queens schools will be completed, but because of the financial problems the construction might not occur in the original time frame.

One group suffering from the city’s educational problems is the immigrants who comprise a large portion of the borough’s population. Leffler said immigration is one of the real challenges for the borough president.

“We need to create a hospitable and warm environment,” he said. “New York is unparalleled with so many different people and so many religions. We need to give people a sense that we are all in this together.”

He said much of the borough’s and city’s future depends on working with the growing immigrant communities.

One problem affecting immigrants and many longtime Queens residents is the lack of affordable housing. Leffler spoke about the challenges of building housing along with attracting businesses to the borough.

Leffler said he sees no problem changing zoning regulations in heavily commercial areas like Long Island City to accommodate the growing population and to replace the manufacturing that has left the city.

“Parts of the city have come a long way in 25 years. Why not Queens?” Leffler said. “Look at the West Side of Manhattan, Park Slope and Midtown Manhattan. Flushing has come a long way but a lot more can be done.”

New housing and business brings greater car and foot traffic, adding even more stress to an overtaxed public transportation system.

Leffler said the borough’s public transportation had grown in an “ad-hoc way” and should be significantly strengthened. He said with the recent increase in mass transit ridership the number of buses has not risen proportionally.

In the 1980s, he said, the MTA cut F train service in half to accommodate the number of trains that had to use the 53rd Street tunnel. He said with the new 63rd Street tunnel the number of F trains in operation should return to 1980 levels.

“Restore the express F train,” he said, “You have an express facility that has not been express for years.”

Leffler also said the borough president has the power to address many of the residents’ concerns.

“The borough president can make a lot of difference,” he said. “I think Claire Shulman made a difference.”

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

Posted 7:22 pm, October 10, 2011
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