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The Civic Scene: Exciting times as new boro officials sworn in

During the past few weeks my wife Edna and I have attended the swearing in of several City Council members and enjoyed the power brokers who attended these events.

Councilman John C. Liu (D-Flushing) was the first Queens member of the new group to be sworn in. The event took place in the large glass library in downtown Flushing.

On Dec. 27 many people came to bask in this auspicious occasion — Liu is the council’s first Asian member. Present in the overflowing auditorium were Borough President-elect Helen Marshall, U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.); U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside); former Congressman Thomas Manton who is the Queens Democratic Party leader; Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin (D-Flushing) of the Central Labor Council of New York City; Herman Farrell, who is state chairman of the state Democratic Party plus; as well as countless other city and state officials. Naturally, the audience was made up of local Chinese, Indian and Korean residents.

Speaker after speaker praised Liu’s election and the history it made. Helen Marshall was also praised as the first black Queens Borough president. People referred to the strength of our democracy and our diversity.

Liu spoke of his humble past in Taiwan and his dedication to the Flushing neighborhood where he chose to live and raise his family. He spoke of PS 20 where he went to school, his parents and his plans to fight for a balanced budget, support the public school system, improve access to health care and ensure the availability of affordable housing.

Liu brings a long history as former president of the North Flushing Civic Association and his fight against encroaching religious community facilities, the inefficiency of the Buildings Department to control illegal apartments and against commercial trucks using our local streets as transit throughways.

On Jan. 3 I attended two ceremonies. In the morning Helen Marshall, whose parents were born in British Guyana, was sworn in during a ceremony at the New York Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. That evening, David Weprin (D-Hollis) was sworn in as my local city councilman in the Hollis Hills Jewish Center. Weprin, whose mother, Sylvia, was born in Cuba, was touted as the first Cuban Jewish councilman. Sylvia Weprin taught bilingual Spanish biology in Jamaica High School. My daughters Andrea and Jennifer had her as a teacher there in a regular biology class.

The same officials were at Marshall’s and Weprin’s installations except for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who attended only Marshall’s. I didn’t know that the Hall of Science could hold so many people but they were there to see their new Queens borough president take office.

Marshall spoke about how we are all working together at Ground Zero. She spoke about our diversity. She spoke about the dean of girls at Morris High School, Dean Dunkin, who arranged for her to receive benefits and attend high school so she could get her education after both her parents died when she was young.

Marshall praised her predecessor, Claire Shulman, and promised to continue her legacy. She spoke of her teaching past and promised to set up a task force on quality education. I only hope she is not tainted by those who only criticize our schools and will accept the many successes as a foundation to build upon. I am sure she will do this.

It is interesting that I had 90 many different foods at these events. Liu served Chinese food, Marshall salads with apples and Weprin had kosher salads and pasta. I met many neighborhood people whom I know plus the leading legislators in Queens both past and present.

We were all there to see and be seen. I, for one, will be writing about and pressuring for the things I feel that we need to maintain and improve our quality of life.

Good News of the Week

I am happy to report that my daughter Andrea and her husband Doug Leff are the parents of a little bouncing boy, Samuel Ian. He was born five weeks early so he weighed only 4 pounds 8 ounces but he has now filled up to about 9 pounds. It is amazing how little a baby can look with the tiny fingers and toes and his little cries. Grandfathers notice these things.

Bad News of the Week

On Jan. 5 I found, only in The New York Times, a story about the city firing 3,500 former welfare recipients who had been working at union wages with union benefits for the Parks Department. These wages are only $9.50 an hour. It seems that the city fires Parks Department workers when there is a budget crisis. These workers are primarily single women who were putting their lives together and keeping our parks clean and maintained at the same time. There is talk that the workers may be kept on at $7.95 an hour to do the same work without health benefits. Why can’t the city drop five or six no-shows or $150,000 jobs to save money?

I have mentioned that Cunningham Park is kept clean by these and other regular workers. I have walked the track on summer mornings at 7:30 and watched these very park workers cleaning the trash left by the many users of Cunningham Park the day before. In a few hours the park is clean again. They do work hard.

This praise has nothing to do with the complaints of the residents about the deteriorated condition of Cunningham Park. From years of heavy usage there are many eroded and worn areas in the western end of Cunningham Park along Union Turnpike near 193rd Street. There has to be some loosening of the soil at the eroded places and new soil has to be used to cover the tree roots and other low areas. Perhaps these fired workers can be used to repair the park during the slack season when they are not needed to pick up trash.

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