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Bloomy rivals debate in Little Neck forum

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The Republican mayor dropped in at the Samuel Field YM & YWHA in Little Neck Sunday to let people know what he has done to boost economic development in Queens, improve city schools and cut crime in every borough. After that, his challengers - former Democratic Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer (D-Bronx), Democratic Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields (D-Manhattan), Democratic City Council Speaker Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan), former Republican Councilman Thomas Ognibene of Middle Village, U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) and dark horse Republican challenger Steven Shaw of Brooklyn - gave their views on how the city and its schools could be improved."Queens is a borough that is a residential borough," Bloomberg said in his five-minute remarks. "There are an enormous amount of people who work in Queens."To improve working conditions in the borough, he talked about economic development projects like Queens West in Long Island City and the rehabilitation of Queens Plaza, the rundown area where several subway lines converge, also in Long Island City."That whole area has enormous potential," the mayor said. "The second area is Jamaica. It's an area we always thought would develop ...so far that has not happened."The Air Train, which was expected to revitalize the shopping districts around Kennedy Airport, has not accomplished that goal."Many cities have been able to have commercial districts by the airports and that's not the case here," Bloomberg said.The most significant economic development projects lie in Flushing, he said, where the downtown Flushing BID has served to improve the cleanliness of the busy transportation hub.Miller took issue with the fact that the mayor was relying on a BID to provide basic services in the city's business districts. "It's not enough to say we're just going to create a BID," Miller said. "We shouldn't have to create a BID to pick up garbage in Flushing."Bloomberg said the city was narrowing the proposals for the development of Municipal Lot 1 and more than 100 developers recently attended a meeting held by the city on how to redevelop Willets Point, the iron triangle between Shea Stadium and downtown Flushing.For city schools, Bloomberg said he has brought down the cost of constructing a classroom by one-third and has put parent coordinators in place to help better communication between teachers and students' families."Nobody suggests that you're going to take a school system that for decades has failed our children and fix it overnight," he said.But his opponents believe there are changes that could be made to the school system immediately that could improve education for all students. "I think the best thing this mayor has done is to get control of the school system. After 3 1/2 years we have the right to hold him accountable for the results," Miller said, adding that citywide attendance was down, violence was up and teachers were leaving the schools in droves."What works? Smaller class size," he said.But Weiner said Bloomberg was not focusing on the right educational issues."What he doesn't understand is that schools are about the relationships between teachers and students," he said.Fields, the only black as well as female candidate, said she would bring her understanding of community and the need to rely on borough presidents to the office of mayor if she were elected."I understand working with neighborhoods, working with people and addressing priorities," she said.Speaking about Queens, Weiner said the borough would be the one to decide the race."It's been a long time since there's been a mayor from Queens, I don't think there's ever been a mayor from Queens," he said. Ferrer, a frontrunner in the race who is challenging Bloomberg for the second time, said he was concerned most about the cost of living and schools in the city."New York City is in the middle of a crisis of affordability," he said. "If things were as good as (Bloomberg) said, we wouldn't be up here running."He stressed his concern over the fact that straphangers have been stranded in subways across the city over the past year and that quality jobs have left the city.Shaw, a largely unknown candidate in the race for mayor, backed him up on that and said job creation and crime were the two most important issues in his campaign.In the last three years, he said the city lost 15,000 private sector jobs. Republican challenger Ognibene, who has already earned a large portion of the Queens county Republican party's support, said he was disappointed that Bloomberg left before hearing what his opponents had to say."He came in and gave us the highest property tax increase in the history of New York City," he said, adding that while it was 18 percent, it felt like 25 percent because assessments raised the cost of housing."I don't see my property values going higher, I see my assessments going higher," Ognibene said.He proposed the Jets stadium be built over Sunnyside Yards.Weiner, whose district stretches from southern Queens through the Forest Hills area up to southern Bayside, said the West Side stadium plan was distracting for the welfare of the city and he repeated his plea from a year ago to have the stadium built in Queens."April of last year I said build it - in Queens," he said.As far as the Jets stadium controversy, probably one of the most publicized issues of Bloomberg's administration in recent months, both Weiner and Ferrer agreed that the West Side was not a cure-all for the city's problems."One of the most vexing things about this debate about this stadium was when Dan Doctoroff said, 'We don't want to build it there because people don't want to go to Queens,'" Weiner said.Ferrer added that significant job creation by way of a West Side stadium was a myth."Let me tell you the type of jobs we're talking about, not selling beer and cracker jacks at Jets stadium," he said.Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

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