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Forest Hills toasts Katz on new City Council job

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Nearly 1,000 people, including more than a dozen key figures in Queens politics, packed the Forest Hills Jewish Center Sunday to witness the official inauguration of City Councilwoman Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills).

Katz personally greeted hundreds of Forest Hills residents and other supporters at the Queens Boulevard Jewish center as other elected officials trickled in.

Queens County Democratic Party boss Tom Manton served as emcee at the inaugural ceremony, where speakers included U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). Schumer represented Forest Hills in congress for eight years.

“There are certain areas of our city that have a special knack for turning out elected officials,” Schumer said, turning to look at the row of Queens politicians sitting beside Katz. “What a high quality group!”

Karen Koslowitz, whom Katz replaced in the Council, sat with the new councilwoman. Also in the long row of Queens politicians were former Borough President Claire Shulman, former city Comptroller Alan Hevesi, a Forest Hills resident, and his son, state Sen. Daniel Hevesi (D-Forest Hills).

Schumer remarked on Katz’s experience in the state Assembly, where she served from 1994 to 1998, and her hard-fought campaign for the congressional seat Schumer vacated in 1998.

Katz lost that race to U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills), who officiated at Katz’s inauguration Sunday. Several speakers made jokes about that congressional race, but the audience did not explode with laughter until Weiner began praising Katz.

Weiner commented on Katz’s intelligence and tenacity before saying, “and as my mother frequently reminds me, she is quite good looking as well.” Laughter from the audience forced the congressman to pause his speech.

Weiner read from the city charter as Katz repeated the vows and placed her hand over a Bible held by her longtime friend Nancy Baxter.

As councilwoman in the 29th district, Katz represents the residents of Forest Hills, Rego Park, Kew Gardens, parts of Maspeth, South Elmhurst and Richmond Hill. She shares a district office with Weiner at 104-01 Metropolitan Ave. in Forest Hills.

Katz spoke only briefly at the ceremony, thanking her supporters, including Alan Hevesi, who first urged her to run for the state Assembly in 1994.

Katz also praised Koslowitz, saying, “it is my honor to follow in her footsteps.” Koslowitz represented Forest Hills for 10 years before she was barred from re-election due to term limits.

Dan Hevesi, who grew up a few blocks away from Katz, said that the only bad thing about gaining Katz as a councilwoman was losing Koslowitz.

But Queen Borough President Helen Marshall soon quipped, “you didn’t lose Karen — I stole her from you,” referring to Koslowitz’s new position as deputy borough president.

Before her election to the Council, Katz served as director of Queens community boards under Shulman.

Shulman joked at Sunday’s event that she had run a prep school for future Queens politicians during her tenure at Borough Hall, pointing out state Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubrey (D-Corona) and the younger Hevesi — as well as Katz — as her former employees.

“She has indeed done a wonderful job and I am very proud of her,” Shulman said of Katz’s work in Borough Hall and her election to the Council. “I think she will make all of us proud.”

Other elected officials at the ceremony were state Assemblymen Michael Cohen (D-Forest Hills), Scott Stringer (D-Manhattan) and Mark Weprin (D-Bayside) as well as city Comptroller Bill Thompson.

Two council members who were actively running for speaker, A. Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan) and Bill Perkins (D-Manhattan) made appearances at the event, as did newly elected Queens Councilmen Eric Gioia (D-Woodside), John Liu (D-Flushing), Allan Jennings (D-Jamaica) and David Weprin (D-Hollis).

The council members were set to elect a speaker Wednesday.

Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 138.

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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