Bloomberg addressed City Council members, city business leaders, agency commissioners and hundreds of others at the site of the future Flushing Meadows ice rink where he told the enthusiastic crowd that despite signs of a weak economy in weeks and months to come, the city would undertake a variety of new city projects.Quoting writer Philip Roth, the mayor said the city would continue to lead in technological innovation and draw new city residents from across the globe, calling New York "a city that's open to everybody from around the world, a city that can compete with any place on Earth, a city where 'hope breaks out.'" "Keeping New York City at the front of the pack begins with an openness to new energy, meaning immigration, and to new ideas, meaning innovation," he said. "It means thinking about problems in new ways and using the most powerful new technology from every place to solve them. We can improve and be the beneficiary of change, not its victim."As expected, Bloomberg discussed his plan to retain a 7 percent tax cut that was introduced last year, as well as extend a $400 property tax rebate program despite national signs of a weakening economy.But he said the tax cut's continuation would depend on a variety of factors, including the economy's strength and assistance from the state. "This is likely to be a difficult year, but we haven't waited for the hard times to hit before taking action," he said. He said the city took steps, such as cutting spending and freezing hiring in a number of city agencies, last year when the national economy first started showing signs of a slowdown.But the mayor said the city would still introduce a number of new initiatives in 2008, including increases in crime fighting technology. The city Fire Department will institute a state-of-the-art fire simulator for training at the FDNY's academy, while the Police Department will set up a system through which city residents can send digital photos to the police from their cell phones, Bloomberg said.The city will also introduce a wireless network that will allow first responders to get information, including maps and mug shots, more quickly, while the NYPD will become the first police department in the nation to launch a firearms evidence database.The mayor said the city would also undertake new social service programs to help its neediest, such as linking the computer systems at a number of city agencies to allow them to share client information, opening a second center for domestic violence victims in Kew Gardens and improving the quality of food in city schools, hospital and senior centers.Bloomberg said another of his 2008 goals would be to reform the city's Board of Elections by creating a nonpartisan coalition that will fight for merit-based hiring."The Board of Elections is perhaps the only agency that still has the party bosses directly calling the shots," he said. "Hiring should be based on merit, not party ties. 2008 is the 130th anniversary of the death of Boss Tweed. Let's also make it the year we finally put to rest his style of politics."The mayor also said the city would continue to introduce initiatives to promote tourism with a goal of attracting 50 million visitors per year by 2015 and rezone neighborhoods in all five boroughs. Bloomberg also introduced five families seated behind him on the stage who had moved to Flushing from a variety of places, including Colombia, India, Sicily, China and South Carolina, touting the city as a leader in drawing new immigrants."The diversity they represent is what makes our town special," the mayor said, referring to the five families. "To those who are wailing against immigration, to those politicians who, all of a sudden, have embraced xenophobia, I say, 'Open your eyes.' Take a look behind me. This is what makes America great. This is New York City. This is freedom, this is compassion and democracy and opportunity."Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at news@times
©2008 Community News Group
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