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Bloomberg visits Bayside, talks smoking ban, taxes

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Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the workplace smoking ban but hedged on the question of a property tax rollback in a meeting with Queens reporters at the Blue Bay Diner in Bayside last week.

The sit-down wrapped up the mayor's daylong visit to Queens, which had begun with a tour of a new learning support center in Long Island City and wound down with a visit to the 109th Police Precinct in Flushing.

Asked whether there was a way to mitigate the city's smoking ban, which was superseded by a state ban July 24, to help financially strapped bar and restaurant owners, Bloomberg could only think of one way.

"We can kill people," he said. "To the best of my knowledge, no oncologist would tell you that a small amount of smoke is healthy."

Bloomberg denied that bars and restaurants were suffering because of the ban, saying that employment in the food and beverage industries had increased since the city ban took effect.

"I'm sure there are some people that are getting hurt," he said. "If you don't serve good food, people aren't going to come."

"I think if you wanted to change the rules you'd have a revolution at this point in time ... and they're not going to be changed."

As for the 18.5 percent property tax increase passed in November, Bloomberg would not give a projected date for its lifting but said the city's financial crisis may be easing.

"The leading indicators are starting to look up," the mayor said. "I think the outlook is reasonably good."

Within the next two years, the increases in sales and personal income tax should be rescinded totally, he said.

"We'll see about the property tax," he said. "It's a function of how strong the economy is."

One reporter questioned security measures at Queens Borough Hall in light of the recent shooting of a councilman at City Hall, saying people wearing special badges did not have to go through a metal detector at Borough Hall.

"Generally in most places they do have badges, and I think in all fairness what happened last week was much more an aberration," said Bloomberg, adding that both he and Borough President Helen Marshall had gone through the metal detector at Borough Hall on a recent visit.

On the question of easing school overcrowding in Queens, whose schools are the city's most crowded, the mayor said more classrooms and schools had been built in the borough under his watch than anywhere else in the city.

The mayor was defensive about statistics released by Marshall's office earlier this year showing that Manhattan had received more new school seats than Queens after old Board of Education administrative offices had been converted for student use.

"This isn't a class warfare thing, it isn't a borough vs. borough (issue)," he said. "It's where you are able to find buildings or find space that's being used by bureaucrats where you can convert it."

When asked why he spent an entire day in Queens, the mayor replied in businesslike fashion: "The budget is done. I have the time to do it ... it's maximizing the travel time."

Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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