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Mayor warmly welcomed at Jamaica Estates temple

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After speaking about the city’s awning laws, crime and firehouses Mayor Michael Bloomberg received a standing ovation from his audience at the Young Israel of Jamaica Estates synagogue Monday night.

“This is probably one of the best receptions he’s received in a long time, and he was thrilled to be in an area where they’re not closing a firehouse,” said Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis) after the mayor’s speech and question-and-answer session. It lasted for close to an hour and a half — much longer than the half hour which he had been scheduled for.

Members of the audience at the Jamaica Estates synagogue at 83-10 188th St. praised the mayor as warm, caring, and honest, even when they did not like his answers to their questions.

“He didn’t rush out of here and he seemed like he wanted to be a part of the community,” said Shirley Reichman of Jamaica Estates.

Reichman asked the mayor what he thought about an antiquated law that limits the size of letters on storefront awnings to 12 inches in height and 12 square feet in area, and prohibits the printing of anything other than the name of the store and the store address on the awning.

When Bloomberg replied that the law was ridiculous and would not be enforced by the city for the next six months until a new law was passed, Reichman then asked what would happen to those who had already paid fines for awning violations.

“We need the money,” said Bloomberg, giving an answer that Reichman respected, even though she had been hoping for a refund for her friend, who had been issued a summons for his awning.

Despite negative press about the quality of life in the city, Bloomberg said the fact that co-op prices across the street from the former World Trade Center are higher today than they were on Sept. 10, 2001, is an indication that people are choosing to stay in the city rather than move elsewhere.

“When they vote with their feet, they certainly don’t go away from New York, they come to New York,” said the mayor. “Nobody’s moving out of New York —- let’s get serious. Where are you going to go? This is better than any city in the world.”

New York City is ranked 203rd out of 225 cities on a list that rates American cities from highest to lowest in crime, said Bloomberg, placing the city between Garden Grove, Calif. and Henderson, Nev.

“The last time crime was at this level the World’s Fair was in Flushing Meadows Park,” said Bloomberg.

Despite all the opposition to the closing of firehouses, the city now has more firefighters than it did 16 months ago when he entered office, said Bloomberg. Deaths from fires are at a 75-year low, he added.

Bloomberg praised the new 311 information line as a system that works, and encouraged people to call the number to report anything from a leaky fire hydrant to kids loitering on the street corner to potholes.

The 311 system has received one million calls in its first three months of existence, or about 16,000 calls per day, said the mayor.

When a man in the audience complained about the proposal to construct the new 800-seat Gateway High School on the campus of Queens Hospital Center in Jamaica because it would disrupt neighborhood parking and tranquility, Bloomberg pointed to the man’s objection as an example of not being able to please everybody.

“What you learn is that there is no easy answer to complex problems,” said the mayor. “I was hired to make tough decisions, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

After Bloomberg slowly made his way out of the synagogue, shaking many hands and posing for pictures on the way, Weprin said the mayor seemed to be making a special effort within the last two weeks to be more friendly toward protesters and members of the general public, perhaps in an effort boost his flagging approval rates.

“I thought he was very, very nice and very approachable,” said Susan Lerner, a member of the Young Israel of Jamaica Estates synagogue who posed for a picture with the mayor with her 2-year-old son, Marcus. “He’s trying to do his job. He’s trying to make the people happy. He’s got a tough job on his hand.”

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, ext. 155.

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