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I take issue with the July 31 TimesLedger editorial "An Office Worth Saving," which advocated the retention of the office of the borough president.
There was a time when real power in the city rested with an Estimate Board. The board ran afoul of the U.S. Constitution because the disparity in the amount of the populations in each borough did not satisfy the requirement of equal representation. A City Charter revision commission was convened to address the problem.
The board was abolished and power vested in the mayor and City Council. A question arose as to what was to be done with the borough presidencies.
The office was retained because it was nothing more than a patronage mill. The borough president had no power at all, but as a sop was given a small amount of taxpayer funds miniscule in terms of the city budget of more than $40 billion annually.
I also take issue with TimesLedger's opinion of our current borough president, Helen Marshall. She thought it was a grand idea to build a Jets football stadium in the middle of Flushing Meadows Corona Park, which would have destroyed an important and much-needed urban park. She thinks it fine to destroy over 225 economically viable businesses with over 1,300 employees and dependents in Willets Point to benefit a real estate developer. Her constituency has always been for big business, not the little people.
An example of what the office of the borough president has been reduced to is that it has become the reward to the winner of political musical chairs. We now have municipal term limits. That means that at the end of those terms, the previously elected official is off the city payroll because that is what the electorate intended.
It never completely worked out that way, since a move would be made from one office to another if available. The best prize, however, was borough president. You did not have to travel to Albany, it paid well and you had a job for four years with another term guaranteed. We should take Marshall as an example. She was a City Councilwoman who was about to be out of a job because of term limits. Karen Koslowitz, also a City Councilwoman, was also slated to be term-limited out of office, as was then-Borough President Claire Shulman.
Marshall and Koslowitz remained in good standing with the political establishment, then contended for the borough president's office. A problem arose because Carol Gresser, a third party and not an establishment member, also sought the job. There was real concern Koslowitz would split the vote for Marshall and Gresser would win.
In typical political fashion, Koslowitz suddenly withdrew from the race. Marshall won, but Koslowitz did not fade off into the sunset. She resurfaced as an assistant to Marshall with a salary that exceeded that which she had earned as a councilwoman. Hardly an example of inspired and good government.
Taxpayers should not be paying for powerless and useless jobs that exist simply to satisfy political patronage. The time has come to do away with the borough presidencies and make sure the mayor and City Council do their jobs.
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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