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Liu foresees Flushing as ‘destination of choice’

By Alexander Dworkowitz

Just before taking office, City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) joined dozens of other new members of the City Council in going to “Council School.”

The three one-day sessions were designed to instruct on the basics of city council rules and parliamentary procedure.

At best, the training was somewhat informative, said Liu. At worst, he added, it was offensive and condescending.

“They talked about how they had so much institutional knowledge, and how they didn’t want to lose it to the new members,” said Liu in a recent interview with the TimesLedger. “It’s not rocket science. It’s not that difficult to figure out.”

Liu ended up leaving the course after spending three hours in the first session run by the Baruch College School of Public Affairs and other institutions.

Liu’s early departure from the sessions is not the only convention he has broken. As a 35-year-old who just quit his job as a manager at Price Waterhouse Cooper, Liu provides a stark contrast to his predecessor, Julia Harrison, who was 80 when she left office in December. Liu sees his and other council members lack of political experience as a blessing, not a burden.

But it is not Liu’s age that breaks convention. Instead, as the first Asian American to sit on City Council, Liu has become a closely watched figure, not only in Flushing but throughout the city.

For Liu, the beginning of his service as a councilman has been a balancing act between attending to the needs of his constituents while hammering out a budget in a time of a $4 billion city debt.

While his short-term work is focused on finding ways to cut city services, Liu has a long-term vision of revitalizing Flushing, which he has called home since he emigrated from Taiwan at the age of 5.

The center of his vision is transportation. Now head of the Council’s Transportation Committee, Liu said he specifically sought out the position with Flushing in mind.

“One of the major reasons that Flushing is as big as it is because it’s a center of transportation,” said Liu. “But we still get treated like we’re just a commercial strip.”

Liu commented on several proposals to improve traffic flow in downtown Flushing. While he thinks Borough President Helen Marshall’s idea to build a bus terminal in downtown Flushing has its merits, he said a bus terminal was not the real solution to traffic problems.

Instead, Liu advocated a major study of downtown traffic patterns which would investigate the possibility of making streets one way. He envisions the study being done in conjunction with stricter enforcement of traffic laws, efforts to repair potholes sooner, and making signs more visible.

But improvements in transportation for Liu are part of a larger goal of making Flushing “a destination of choice.”

“Despite all the growth over the years, I don’t think we realized anywhere close to the potential,” he said.

Liu said a centerpiece of improving Flushing is developing the RKO Keith’s Theater, now owned by Tommy Huang. Liu described the site, at the intersection of Main Street and Northern Boulevard, as “the gateway not only to Flushing but all of the North Shore.” He added that he would like to see the theater restored.

In addition, Liu spoke of developing the waterfront along the Flushing River.

So far, most of Flushing’s development has been financed by private sources.

“It’s all been privately driven,” he said. “There’s been no attention from City Hall whatsoever.”

Liu said since construction has been carried out by private developers willy-nilly, Flushing suffers from a lack of planning. He pointed to the example of 40th Road, the short street that starts at Main Street and runs parallel to the Long Island Rail Road’s New York-bound entrance. Former Borough President Claire Shulman called 40th Road the dirtiest part of Flushing.

While some of the vendors and restaurant managers along 40th Road do violate the law, Liu said most had good intentions. He pointed out that the street lacked infrastructure such as garbage cans, preventing the merchants from properly disposing of their trash.

Liu’s ambitious goals have eluded other politicians who have represented Flushing. But he is hoping he can bring more city involvement to the community to promote further development.

“I do have a relationship with Mayor Bloomberg,” he said. “That’s going to be beneficial to Flushing.”

Liu’s district office opened Monday. The office is located at 135-27 38th Ave., Suite 388, but he plans to keep his hours at area libraries where he has been seeing constituents. The office phone number is 888-8747.

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

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