In his first community forum since taking office at the beginning of the year, state Assemblyman Barry Grodenchik (D-Flushing) blasted Gov. George Pataki's budget plan for the upcoming fiscal year.
"I don't believe [Pataki] has shown a great deal of guidance here, a great deal of leadership here," Grodenchik told a crowd of about 30 people last Thursday.
The event, held at the Macedonia AME Church on Union Street, was organized by the Flushing Forum for the Development of Political Leaders, a group aimed at boosting the political participation of both Flushing's black population and the community as a whole.
Echoing the words of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), Grodenchik criticized nearly every single aspect of Pataki's plan, designed to help the state control a massive deficit.
Grodenchik said the state would lose some 105,000 jobs if Pataki's budget were passed without changes.
The assemblyman also attacked the governor's proposed tuition hikes at state and city colleges and a possible $2 billion cut to health care funding in the state. He said such a plan would cost New York Hospital Medical Center Queens in Flushing $6 million in funding.
"These cuts are worse than Draconian," Grodenchik said, referring to cutbacks in medical care. "They are going to cost people their lives."
Grodenchik also said the city continued to pay more than its fair share to the state.
"We subsidize the rest of New York state, which isn't fair, but we've been doing it for a long time," he said.
Questioning why Pataki had not released the funds from a $710 million rainy day fund to help ease the state's money woes, Grodenchik accused the governor of "playing politics."
Still, Grodenchik expressed some hope about the budget, predicting "the most egregious cuts" would be restored in the final version.
After his speech, Grodenchik listened to concerns from the audience about the state of Flushing.
Ken Cohen, president of the Northeastern Queens NAACP, said he wanted to see more diversity in the businesses in downtown Flushing. The area is dominated by Chinese and Korean businesses, and English-speaking residents have often complained that they do not feel comfortable shopping in most stores in downtown Flushing.
Grodenchik said he would set up a meeting between Cohen, himself, and Shirley Leung, the head of Flushing's Empire State Development office, to address the issue.
Ranganatha Rao, a member of Community Board 7, attacked Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposal to put a toll on East River bridges.
"This could have a serious effect on the people of Flushing and Queens who go [to Manhattan] to make deliveries and other things," Rao said.
Grodenchik said he agreed with Rao, saying the toll proposal was being investigated to see whether it violates federal law. Although a city proposal, the toll hike could eventually come before the Assembly before approval, Grodenchik said.
One woman told Grodenchik more affordable housing needed to be built in Flushing.
"The construction they are building is for people who make a lot of money," she said.
Grodenchik agreed that more affordable housing was necessary, although he said land was so expensive in downtown Flushing it was difficult to build such housing in the immediate area.
The prevalence of potholes, the MTA fare hike and obnoxious drivers were among some of the other complaints voiced at the forum.
Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300 Ext. 141.
©2003 Community News Group
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