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Mayor woos Whitestone’s homeowners

Mayor Michael Bloomberg shook hands with seniors during their cake and coffee break at the Greater Whitestone Taxpayers' Community Center. He spoke briefly about how New York was becoming a safer, cleaner place to live.

"The city's finances are starting to look brighter," he said. "We're certainly not out of the woods yet."

In his budget projections Monday, the Republican mayor said tax revenues were expected to rise by $791 million more than projected by the end of the fiscal year in June. He outlined plans for a balanced $46.9 billion budget, making provisions for $400 property tax rebates for homeowners throughout the city.

"I think it is politically possible to get it passed," Bloomberg said of his rebate. "It's all tied up in the budget problems in Albany."

Bloomberg's 18.5 percent property tax hike passed in November 2002 and went into effect in January 2003 after he brokered a deal with Council Speaker Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan) to gain support for the controversial measure in the overwhelmingly Democratic chamber.

But Avella, along with City Councilmen Allan Jennings (D-Jamaica) and Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn) broke ranks with their party and voted against the property tax.

In retaliation, Bloomberg lifted Avella's and Jennings' parking privileges and each lost a seat on one of their committees in the Council.

When Avella sought re-election to his Council seat last fall, Bloomberg endorsed his Republican opponent, Philip Ragusa, on the steps of City Hall in an unusually partisan move for the mayor, who was a Democrat before running for the top slot in City Hall on the GOP ticket.

For his part, Avella has indicated that he may challenge Bloomberg and run for mayor, although the northeast Queens councilman has acknowledged that his chances for victory would be very slim.

Bloomberg told the Whitestone seniors that the property tax was not applied equally in the city.

"It is the homeowners who really suffer the most, particularly the seniors on fixed incomes," the mayor said. "The renters, it doesn't get passed on as quickly or really at all."

In an interview after the mayor's visit, Avella said that he held his mock Boston Tea Party, coincidentally on the anniversary of a New York Tea Party more than 200 years ago, because city residents are paying the highest taxes of anyone in the country.

"I put a little empty box out for each different sort of tax - 30 boxes," he said. "The taxes are getting out of control. Seniors on fixed incomes are getting hit really hard on this."

Avella said he was not sure whether he would support Bloomberg's $400 rebate plan.

"He is in effect giving with the left hand $400, but taking with the right hand," the councilman said.

All of the attendees at the Greater Whitestone Taxpayers' Community Center, at 150-74 6th Ave., were seniors, many of whom took a break from painting, playing cards and socializing to shake hands with Bloomberg.

"We had no idea (the mayor) was coming," said Rosetta Banks, a senior who was at the center that afternoon. "Nobody told us the topic."

One senior, a woman who wished to remain unnamed, said she was one of the 30 people who protested city taxes with Avella last week.

"Hopefully, they will reduce our real estate taxes," she said.

Avella was not sure whether the mayor visited his constituents because of his rally last week.

"It's hard for me to say, 'Is there a correlation or isn't there?'" Avella said. "We definitely have to do something in terms of the property tax."

Prior to the mayor's speech, seniors voiced concern about the proposed wholesale business development at the site of the nearby Flushing Airport. Whitestone and College Point residents protested the project on the basis that it would increase traffic in the already congested area.

No one raised the issue during Bloomberg's remarks.

After his speech, Bloomberg would not comment on the Flushing Airport development.

Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

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