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Tempers flared Monday night at a Town Hall meeting at MS 210 in Ozone Park when residents questioned Mayor Michael Bloomberg on the citys proposal to locate a homeless shelter at the Best Western Carlton House near Kennedy Airport.
At one point, state Sen. Aida Smith (D-Jamaica) approached the table where the mayor was sitting with 13 of his top advisers and commissioners and slammed a packet of facts in front of him that showed southeast Queens has had to bear the overwhelming brunt of the boroughs homeless shelters.
It wasnt an altercation, said Smith in an interview Wednesday. He was making a statement that was totally incorrect. I corrected him and gave him documentation that proved what I was saying.
That would have been the end, Smith said, but one of Bloombergs bodyguards then tried to intimidate her.
Rude wasnt the word, she said. He practically threatened me with bodily harm. He was young and I told him dont you dare speak to me in that manner.
The proposed homeless shelter was clearly the most contentious issue discussed on a night when residents also wanted to know about overcrowded schools, police on the streets and Sikhs serving in the NYPD with their turbans.
When South Jamaica resident Yvette Sledge, of Southeast Queens Concerned Neighbors, questioned Bloomberg on the proposed shelter in South Jamaica, the mayor responded in an agitated tone.
He said the city was bound by a federal court order to provide shelter to everyone in need. I know nobodys happy about it, he said. Its a federal court order and we cant do anything about it.
He told the crowd Queens has fewer homeless shelters than other boroughs, drawing an extended chorus of boos and hisses punctuated by cries of no. Southeast Queens activists and politicians are angry that 12 of the 14 Queens shelters are in or near Community Board 12, which covers Jamaica, South Jamaica, Hollis, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.
When the town hall meeting began Monday night at MS 210 School 210 on 101st Avenue in Ozone Park, in the fourth-highest populated school district in New York City, it appeared the boroughs overcrowded schools would highlight the agenda for the evening. The host school, one of the most overcrowded in the city, has a register of 2,300 students.
Its a big item for us in Queens, said Borough President Helen Marshall, referring to her boroughs bursting schools as she introduced the mayor to the more than 100 residents who showed up to let him know what was on their minds.
Perhaps anticipating questions from the predominantly southern Queens crowd, Bloomberg struck a pre-emptive blow.
Well build as many schools as we can, he said. Well try to find a way to do that more efficiently.
Once the floor was opened up to questions and comments, residents did ask about Queens crowded schools, but they also brought other issues to Bloomberg. In response to a question from an audience member about health benefits for private bus line workers who were on strike, Bloomberg said the city had begun preliminary talks with the MTA to take over all private bus lines.
Bloombergs commissioners took notes as borough residents asked about granting landmark status to the Forest Park carousel, the future of the old St. Anthonys Hospital site on Woodhaven Boulevard and the return of the 102nd Precinct mounted police unit.
Many audience members applauded the efforts of the 102nd and 106th precincts in reducing crime and wanted assurances from Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly that budget cuts would not affect the number of cops on the streets.
The crowd included about 25 Sikhs from Richmond Hill, who thanked the police for protecting them from mistaken identity attacks after Sept. 11 and Bloomberg for his support after their 118th Street temple burned to the ground in March.
Kabul Singh, who is first vice president of the 102nd Precinct Community Council, wanted to know why Sikhs were not allowed to serve with their turbans and unshorn beards in the NYPD.
Bloomberg deferred to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who was seated directly to his left, for an answer.
Uniforms provide many things to the public and one of them is safety, Kelly said. We have a standard eight-point hat for traffic enforcement agents. We feel its important for people to be able to see them.
But the most heated exchanges of the night were reserved for the South Jamaica homeless shelter. Following the meeting, Borough President Helen Marshall said southeast Queens was being unfairly overloaded with homeless shelters. She said the conversion of the Best Western would put a burden on area schools, which were already struggling to meet state requirements for reading and math.
Its going to be bedlam for people who live there, she said. Theyre hearts and minds are open, but this is pushing them too far.
Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.
©2002 Community Newspaper Group
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