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Mayor woos Queens with tax rebate in State of City

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First-term Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg left very few Queens neighborhoods unmentioned during his State of the City address last Thursday at Silvercup Studios in Long Island City, where he said he wants to give tax rebates to city property owners, a majority of whom live in the borough.

The mayor mentioned plans for Bayside, Long Island City, Elmhurst, Flushing, Jamaica, College Point and Astoria in his speech, discussed a pending renovation of Queens Boulevard and later called Borough President Helen Marshall by her first name while detailing the additional 15,000 school seats coming to Queens.

“I sort of got a feeling (the speech) was ‘Queensie,’” Marshall laughed. “He knew he would get a warm welcome here.”

For Bloomberg, as well as other Republican mayors and mayoral contenders, Queens is a must-win borough. During the past three mayoral elections, Queens helped install both Bloomberg and former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

Marshall said Queens residents would greatly benefit from tax rebates following last year’s 18.5 percent property tax increase. She did not comment on the timing of the move, as Bloomberg starts preparations to run for re-election in 2005, but said the rebates and city’s economic recovery have been welcome in a borough hard hit by the economic fallout from the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

“He reached out and taxed us to death to get us out of this crisis,” Marshall said. “I have to give him some credit for (the recovery), because he is at the helm.”

The mayor outlined how the city overcame a $5.5 billion budget deficit in 2002 and a $6.5 billion budget deficit the following year. He said the taxes, along with the more efficient use of existing resources, kept the city from financial ruin.

“The people of this city had to reach deeper into their pockets to get us through the past two years,” the mayor said. “They are the true heroes of this crisis.”

But Bloomberg stopped short of characterizing the city as a picture of health, detailing a projected $2 billion deficit for fiscal year 2005, and a $4 billion deficit for fiscal year 2006.

Bloomberg was elected in 2001 following two-term Republican Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. The billionaire businessman said his expertise in managing finances and balancing budgets would be invaluable in guiding New York City through tough fiscal times.

The attacks on Sept. 11 and the economic fallout that hit the airline industry, a major employer in Queens, put the city and borough residents in tough financial times.

Bloomberg received a standing ovation from Councilman Peter Vallone (D-Astoria) when he announced his plan to issue the rebates. The mayor also said he would let the sales tax and personal income tax surcharges expire and restore a tax exemption on clothing sales — taxes that were put into effect to stem the city’s then multibillion-dollar budget gap.

“The fact that he chose to give his speech here shows he is committed to the outer boroughs,” Vallone said. “Other than that, I think he has done a good job working with the Council.”

Bloomberg, who gave his first State of the City speech last year in Brooklyn, has made numerous visits to Queens leading up to the 2005 re-election campaign.

During the last few months, he has been to Woodhaven to light the community’s Christmas tree and menorah, stopped in Jamaica to discuss changes to how the city suspends violent students, toured Kennedy Airport to inaugurate the AirTrain and talked to straphangers in Bayside while introducing the Long Island Rail Road’s new City Ticket. He was also designated the Juniper Park Civic Association’s “Man of the Year” for helping to secure KeySpan’s sale of the former gas tanks site to the city for $1.

“I love it,” Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis) said of Bloomberg’s visits. He said the mayor was being politically savvy in announcing his intention to give borough residents property tax rebates, saying now that the budget is in a financially sound condition, Bloomberg could afford to refund some city funds.

“This is the way to do it,” Weprin said.

The rebates, however, are not a done deal. The City Council and Bloomberg must negotiate during the next six months over the scope, cost and merits of the proposed rebates. This could mean the amount of rebates could increase or decrease based on the city’s future financial situation.

Despite the economic recovery, and before the announcement of the rebates, one former Republican city councilman and two other Democratic elected officials announced their intentions to possibly challenge Bloomberg in 2005.

Tom Ognibene, who formerly represented the communities of Ridgewood, Middle Village and Glendale, has already said he wants to take on the mayor. U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Kew Gardens) and state Assemblyman and New York City Central Labor Council President Brian McLaughlin (D-Flushing) said they also are considering mayoral runs.

But the mayor’s speech seemed to play to the Queens constituency that has been the cornerstone of past successful mayoral campaigns.

Bloomberg said he wanted to limit overdevelopment in Bayside, expand business opportunities in downtown Flushing, develop College Point, expand existing film studio sound stages in Astoria and renovate stretches of Queens Boulevard to lessen the chances of traffic-related fatalities.

He also laid out plans to increase economic development initiatives in Long Island City and Jamaica, while continuing with a deal to transform the former site of the Elmhurst gas tanks into a city park.

Councilman Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) said the mayor is doing a good job in addressing the needs of Queens residents, but added there is still work to do before the majority Democratic borough throws its support behind the first-term Republican.

“A tax rebate is nice, but a tax rollback is better.”

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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