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Bennett makes local politicians swoon for Sinatra art school

Last week the legendary crooner from Astoria turned his charms on a roomful of local politicians to woo them into funding a new home for his Frank Sinatra School of the Performing Arts."I don't want this to be just a school," said Bennett, who founded the public high school in 2001 in Long Island City. "I want this to be the best arts school, not only in the United States, but in the world."During a lunch at Kaufman Astoria Studios, he petitioned state legislators for $600,000 for the construction of the Sinatra school's $68 million new home on 31st Avenue and 36th Street, which should break ground this summer and open in 2007.Bennett's name drew a Who's Who of Queens elected officials, who gushed over the Astoria native and his cause.In attendance were Queens Borough President Helen Marshall - whose office has provided $1 million for the project - state Assemblywomen Margaret Markey (D-Maspeth) and Catherine Nolan (D-Ridgewood), Assemblymen Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) and Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills), state Sen. George Onorato (D-Long Island City) and former Gov. Mario Cuomo, a Queens native.Markey, who represents the district where the school is located, asked each legislator to provide $50,000 in capital funds for the new five-story, 145,000-square-foot building on the grounds of Kaufman Astoria Studios. She has already committed $100,000 to the project."When you have the name 'Tony Bennett' involved in your project, not too many people want to say 'no,'" Markey said.The new facility will be a cultural and educational boon for the western Queens neighborhood, said Bennett, who was 14 years old when he launched his career in the neighborhood with a job as a singing waiter at the now defunct Fezen Tavern near Astoria Park.He later focused his craft as a student at Manhattan's High School of Art and Design. The experience was invaluable, he said. He wants to give Queens youth the same opportunity at Sinatra, which offers classes in acting, music, dance and the visual arts."We're going to make these students real artists who know what they're doing," Bennett said.The school's leased space on Thomson Avenue holds just over 500 students. The new location will have room for 1,000 and 60 percent will be from Queens. An 800-seat theater will be available for public use as much as three times a week. Bennett said he would perform there and use his star power to draw other big names, like his friend Harry Belafonte."I think it's a wonderful thing and I definitely support it," said Gianaris, who represents the district just north of the school. "The beauty of it is it could double as a performing arts space. It would be a real economic development boost to the neighborhood."Reach reporter Matthew Monks by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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