Air quality on the agenda in L.I. City senate contest

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The number of the district represented by state Sen. George Onorato (D-Long Island City) may have changed from 14 to 12, but the problems facing its constituents revolve around the same issues: air pollution, education and quality of life.

Redistricting only slightly reshaped the face of the 12th Senate District, which gained neighborhoods in Ridgewood, West Maspeth and Woodside, but relinquished parts of Bay Terrace, Ditmars, Elmhurst and Steinway.

In the air, however, little has changed. Pollutants continue to pose a problem for District 12 — a concern shared by Onorato and his two opponents in the election on Nov. 5, Republican Marie Lynch and Green Party candidate Ann Eagan.

Onorato, a 10-term incumbent elected to the senate in 1983, cited air quality, notably “the proliferation of power plants in Astoria, Ravenswood and Long Island City,” as the key issue facing his constituency. He also criticized in light of emissions from snarled traffic on the district’s bridges and freeways a mayoral plan to add a toll to the Queensboro Bridge.

“I think that’s the most asinine suggestion I’ve ever heard,” Onorato said. “It takes 15 minutes to get over the bridge once you’ve gotten to the bridge. Just imagine how it’s going to back up once tolls are added.”

Onorato also expressed concerns about noise pollution and the state’s looming budget crisis.

“I took the floor and objected to the budget we passed,” Onorato said. “It had a built-in deficit of over $5 billion.”

Republican challenger Marie Lynch said she respects Onorato, and even voted for him twice early in his 19-year tenure. But she added that one issue — education — demands change in the public schools as well as in Albany.

“I’ve met him a few times, and he has always been a gentleman,” Lynch said of Onorato. “But he’s a career politician. You have career politicians who have been in the Senate for many years and who have failed to make a difference when it comes to education ... I have respect for Mr. Onorato, but it’s time for a change.”

Lynch, a Honduran native who moved to Astoria at age 12, supports mayoral control of city schools. However, the former ESL tutor believes bilingual education should be abolished.

“I’m Spanish, and I can tell you that it doesn’t work,” she said.

Lynch, the acting treasurer of the Women’s Republican Club in Astoria, said she wants the district informed about the necessity for power plants in its back yard. But she added that people complain the minute a blackout occurs or electricity problems surface.

“Let’s get the full picture,” she said. “There is a need for more power, I understand that. But let’s inform the people. If they want to oppose new plants, let them oppose. But at least they’ll be informed.”

Green Party candidate Ann Eagan, an environmental activist now working to shut down Indian Point nuclear plant in Westchester, believes an end to U.S. dependence on oil would help District 12 get a grip on its power problems. She advocates the development of alternatives such as wind and solar power.

“The U.S. president wants to control the oil of the world,” said Eagan, a yoga instructor and mother of two grown children. “It’s a control thing. Henry Kissinger once said that the control of oil is too important to be left to the Arabs. We would eliminate that problem if we got off oil.”

Eagan said if elected, she would like to form a statewide program designed to build affordable housing with funds provided by a tax structure change that would increase revenue from high-income brackets.

Eagan, a Sunnyside resident, also favors repeal of the Rockefeller drug laws and decriminalization of marijuana.

“We spend more money building prisons than we do building schools, and that’s a disgrace,” she said. “This war on drugs is a farce. It brings up a whole bunch of monsters like prohibition did. Most of the people who are ‘on drugs’ are on marijuana.”

Reach reporter Joe Whalen by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

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