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Gresser relies on reputation in bid for beep

Former Board of Education President Carol Gresser does not have experience as an elected official, but in her quest for the borough presidency the Douglaston Democrat has citywide name recognition, which could help her win the post.

Gresser, an eight-year appointee to the Board of Ed, has relied on that name recognition as she runs against city council members Sheldon Leffler (D-Hollis) and Helen Marshall (D-East Elmhurst) in the race leading up to the Sept. 11 Democratic primary.

“People look at me as someone who stood up for children,” Gresser said in an interview last week with the TimesLedger. Referring to the time she spent as Board of Ed president, Gresser said she discovered that education is largely politics. “I’m pretty good at politics,” she added.

Gresser, who received The New York Times’ endorsement last week, said she believes in the power of the borough president’s office to illuminate problems and resolve them. City Councilman Alfonso Stabile (R-Ozone Park) is the sole Republican running for the post.

As Queens’ representative on the Board of Ed, Gresser is the only one of the four candidates to have held a citywide position. This has given her somewhat of a head start against her competitors, who must work to make sure they are known throughout the borough and not just in their home council districts.

Shulman exercised her power as borough president over Gresser when she decided not to reappoint her to the Board of Ed in 1998. It is widely believed that Gresser lost her post as the Queens representative because at the time she had been battling with Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Shulman’s close ally, over the appointment of then-Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew.

Shulman, who worked with Gresser’s husband Lawrence as a deputy under the late Borough President Donald Manes in the early ‘80s, has been in office since 1986 and is restricted by term limits from running again.

In an election year when education is widely viewed as the top priority in the city, Gresser’s work on the Board of Ed also gives her an edge.

Advocating the dismantling of the Board of Ed in favor of five borough Boards of Education elected by the public, Gresser said simply the current system “is too big.”

“The kids fall through the cracks,” she said. Describing the trials of working with a city budget which continually shortchanges the school system, Gresser said “you need a person who knows the process and is not afraid to stand up for priorities.”

Gresser cited the construction of new schools to ease the borough’s classroom overcrowding and increasing teacher’s salaries as top concerns in Queens.

While education has dominated politics in the last few months, Gresser identified several other issues, including affordable housing, immigration and better public transportation, that would be priorities in her administration.

“There are people who can’t afford to stay here,” Gresser said about the need for affordable housing in Queens. “There are spaces in Queens. We need to supply houses for people.”

Underutilized manufacturing sites in western Queens could be especially suitable for affordable housing, said Gresser, who also wants to use zoning to “protect light industry” in the borough.

One segment of the population deeply affected by the need for affordable housing has been the borough’s growing immigrant population.

Gresser said she favored increased federal funding to help pay for services for immigrants in Queens as well as tightening the nation’s borders.

“It’s a challenge,” she said of addressing the needs of Queens immigrants.

Another challenge for the new borough president is improving public transportation in Queens.

Extending bus service in parts of the borough, particularly southeast Queens, and monitoring dollar van service could be a way to augment public transportation, she said.

Gresser praised Shulman’s legacy and said she believes in the virtues of the borough president’s office and would be able to carry out change if she is elected.

“You have to shine a light on the problems and speak about them,” she said. “Agitate and advocate. The best that you can do is use the bully pulpit.”

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

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